AUGUSTA — Construction on the expanded and renovated Lithgow Library is expected to be “substantially complete” in just over a week, with library officials looking forward to moving in toward the end of July.

That would set up a mid-August opening for the public, all well ahead of initial projections that the library would be open by fall following completion of the $11 million project.

Most of the inside of the building already looks nearly ready for occupancy, including a wood-lined second floor addition, the restored 1896 original structure, a brightly-lit children’s room, and a roomy space on the second floor for teenagers to call their own.

The job is about 85 percent complete and should be mostly done by June 10, according to Dan Anctil, senior job superintendent on the project for Winthrop contractor J.F. Scott Construction.

“It’s wonderful to see things coming together like this,” Elizabeth Pohl, library director, said this week while showing library employees around the almost-complete library. “I can’t wait for everybody to see it.”

The project is a mix of restoration of historic building features and new construction to more than double the amount of usable space at the city’s public library.

The original structure was restored, gaining new paint, some new plaster, old copper chandeliers formerly powered by gas rewired to run on electricity, and 45,000 screws in the old hardwood floor to keep it from squeaking as library patrons walk above it on new flooring.

And two old fireplaces were restored and re-purposed so they will once again be able to be used for fires, with the flames created by fuel from the building’s natural gas connection. City Manager William Bridgeo said he specifically asked that the fireplaces be returned to use, after he saw what a draw a fireplace was to people in a Massachusetts facility he toured as the city was making plans for the library. He said the fireplaces should be popular spots to sit and read on a cold or damp day.

The library moved its collections and services to the Ballard Center during construction, and staff are close to within a month of being able to start moving back in now that the project is months ahead of schedule.

“We’re going to come in ahead of schedule and under budget, and I think the public is going to be very pleased with their library when it is done,” Bridgeo said.

The expansive, brightly-lit, green and yellow-walled children’s room features a separate area for story time and other special events. Previously, Pohl said, holding a reading for children meant taking up the center of the children’s room area, which was disruptive to other library users.

The large mostly open new second story features a two-sided reference desk where staff will be able to help library users find materials. Before the expansion, there was no reference desk, so library users with questions went to the circulation desk, where they competed for space and staff time with everyone checking out books or other materials.

“We never had a reference desk before because we didn’t have space,” Pohl said.

Anctil, of Wales, said the very-visible work on the historic public building has been a rewarding project for his crew, and he marvels at the intricate details of the original structure, done by artisans some 120 years ago.

“It’s great to have a project like this to actually show what we can do,” Anctil said. “It’s satisfying, building a building for the community, and when the owners are so excited about what you’re doing. It is very rewarding as a contractor, that’s why we love these kinds of buildings.”

A meeting room of the library features, mounted on its walls, the metal end pieces from the original library stacks, each with the name of a donor to the original library construction project on them. That way, people will still know who donated funds for the original library, Bridgeo said.

Anctil said workers were digging down into the ground around the library to water-proof the foundation when he wiped off some soil from a block of stone and saw it was the building’s date stone — a lucky find, he said, because the limited documents they have for the building didn’t show it in that spot.

The basement of the building, which previously housed the children’s room, will now be storage and mechanical space, and a staff break room.

Remaining on the “to do” list includes a fair amount of work still left to be done on the library’s grounds, including lowering what will be its parking lot by about 2 feet, so it is at street level, and putting in concrete sidewalks, as well as landscaping.

And, within a month or two, filling it back up with books.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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