State and local officials were on hand at the recent ground breaking ceremony which signaled the beginning of the expansion of East Hartford's Raymond Public Library.
The $8.2 million project will increase the size of the current 48,000 square-foot library by an additional 14,000 square feet, making space for computer rooms, a meeting room and a teen area. The project will also include renovations of the current building. When complete, the facility will be decorated with a variety of town-related museum artifacts, including Pratt & Whitney engines and tobacco farming relics. Pratt & Whitney will be storing the engines during the course of the renovation and will also provide a grant to help construct the final display.
A number of speakers took to the podium during the ceremony, which took place on Oct. 31, with East Hartford Library Director Susan Hansen making opening remarks.
"This vision was championed by Mayor Leclerc and supported by so many people in the community," said Hansen, who noted that her position with the library began in July at the "end of all this planning."
"I was very impressed when I arrived here at the scope of the project and the depth of the support and commitment to bring a new library facility to the town," continued Hansen, who acknowledged and thanked a list of organizations and individuals before introducing the other speakers.
"I remember what this library meant to me when I was going to college, doing masters work. It was the place I lived in, it was fantastic. We had a lot of great people and resources," said state Rep. Henry Genga. "But it's long overdue, and there are so many people to thank, starting with governor and his staff who we worked with to get the funding, the former director, people who worked here, the administration and the mayor and all the people who helped put this together."
"I can't wait to see what this is going to be in the future, because we're going to have the finest that you can possibly have, the technology and all the resources that this town deserves and will find a blessing," said Genga.
"This may sound political, but it very much is," said East Hartford Mayor Marcia Leclerc, as she began explaining how the project finally came to be.
"I met with the directors and asked about that library project that was started so many years ago, when the Raymond Library Company commissioned plans to expand the library ... One of my initiatives, and what I was running on, was a platform to make that a reality. It was only after I won the election in November that I was actually able to make it all happen, and I can not, and did not, do it alone. Everyone around me here today played an integral role in the process," said Leclerc.
Speaking of timing and opportunity, Leclerc continued, "I reached out to Representative Henry Genga to see if there were revenues available from the state of Connecticut, we asked other representatives and Senator Lebeau to help make this a reality."
Along with "pockets and pools" of money from a variety of areas, Leclerc noted, "It was only the additional $3 million that was able to make this a reality, and it was only because we have a Democratic governor, and it was only because we had a Democratic mayor at that time, and it was only because we had the support of all our delegation, not only on the Town Council, but all of the other areas of the community, so I stand here very proud to introduce a man who really pulled the pieces together by casting his support to allocate the money, $4 million, to the town of East Hartford to make the expansion of this library."
After jovial opening remarks and laughter from the crowd, Gov. Dannel Malloy pointed out that it has been 45 years since a major project had been done at the library building.
"Nineteen sixty eight," said Malloy. "Quite frankly, that's too long of a time to have transpired without this kind of project taking place. When your legislative delegation and mayor brought to my attention the needs of the community around the Raymond Library, it made simply too much sense. It would have made no sense to avoid moving this project forward for the community."
As with many of the speakers that day who spoke of their childhood memories of the library, Malloy spoke of his struggles learning to read while growing up due to learning disabilities. He noted that he spent many hours at Stamford's public library listening to books on tape.
Once remarks from state Rep. Genga, state Rep. Jason Rojas, state Rep. Tim Larson, state Sen. Gary LeBeau, U.S. Rep. John Larson, President for the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving Linda Kelly, Dawn LaValle of the Connecticut State Library, Raymond Library Company Board Vice President Frank Leone, Mayor Leclerc and Gov. Malloy concluded, the ceremonial ground breaking took place.
The expansion and renovation project is expected to take 14 months. Due to construction, the following changes to library services will take place:
The Wickham Library branch hours will be extended to Monday through Thursday, 12 - 8 p.m., Friday, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. These hours will remain until the renovation is completed. The Raymond Library will open in the East Hartford Cultural Center at 50 Chapman Street. The hours of operation will be Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. - 9 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 9 am. - 5 p.m.
Hansen said that during the renovation the library staff will be providing an additional 17 hours of service. The bookmobile will also be operational, and Hansen said she hopes to have the bookmobile schedule available on the library's website by the end of November.
The library is also enhancing 24/7 online offerings by adding new databases, said Hansen.