The experience of visiting the Sherman Library may seem magical for its youngest patrons these days.

After all, Peter Rabbit and his friends frolic in a painted mural on the children's room wall.

The mural is but one of many welcoming touches featured in the $3.3 million library renovation and expansion completed this winter.

The Sherman Library made its long-awaited debut Saturday, March 15, about a year and a half after groundbreaking for the ambitious project.

More than a 100 residents were on hand for a ceremonial ribbon-cutting and many more arrived for tours, children's activities and refreshments.

Large light-filled spaces, relaxing hues and tones of blues and beiges and polished wood floors greeted them all during the library's grand opening.

"As you walk up the blue stone steps, you'll notice a unique circulation desk custom made from Connecticut oak and antique chestnut," noted Millie Loeb, the library director.

"There are dozens of stories behind each room and its contents -- special touches by special people," she added. "If we called on an expert in a time of need, the generosity shown was wonderful."

Over the course of many years, plans were developed, reviewed and shared with the community for feedback on the project.

Loeb wrote the first grant request in 1998.

She was inspired to take action when the final bequest came to the library from Jane Jackson Malloy Marsh's estate, Loeb said. It had been Marsh's $5,000 donation in 1926 that made the original, red-brick library structure a reality in Sherman.

"Millie put her heart and soul into this project," said Karen Cushnie, president of the Sherman Library Board of Trustees.

"She had a vision for a new building that would truly be better and benefit our small town," she remarked. "She followed that dream to the end and made it happen."

The addition, with its high ceilings and large windows, is bookended by the restored 19th century barn and the renovated 1926 library.

"I think it worked out great," said Mason Lord, the chairman of the building committee. "You have one very quiet space on the end where the 1926 library was and a gathering place on the barn end. It was a very collaborative effort with flexibility on everyone's part. It's a wonderful, comfortable place to be in."

The repurposed historic barn is now a library program room. Dating from the mid-1800s, the barn was renovated and restored maintaining its original wood siding, beams and cupola. Wide plank wood floors were installed.

There is a recorded and visual program explaining the barn's features and how barns were constructed in the 1800s. The program room also has state-of-the-art audio visual equipment and a system for the hearing impaired.

Costs were kept in check, bringing the project in on time and on budget, Cushnie said. Furniture was donated or restored by the staff, volunteers and a program at the Hartford correctional facility, Loeb explained.

There are comfortable chairs, computer tables, bookcases and colorful children's furniture, all of which was refurbished or had been donated.

"It's wonderful, airy and spacious. Just great," said Gertrud Berger. "I've been coming here since the 1960s and this is wonderful."

"It's better than it was 50 years ago when I moved to Sherman," said Betty Biro, as she and Berger toured the space. "I've been bringing books to this library for decades."

The library now offers a quiet reading room, a social area, a teen room with computer cubbies, as well as the children's room with spaces for all ages and bench seating. The number of computers was increased and there is WiFi throughout the building.

"The exterior of the library retains its historic charm," Loeb noted, "and is designed to be in harmony with the Sherman historic district."

The building meets leadership in energy and environmental design standards. Windows and insulation are above code and the new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system has programmable thermostats.

Outside are rain gardens, a pervious pavement parking lot to deal with rain run-off, and conduits for possible future solar installation.

The finished project reflects the work of architectural firm Tuthill and Wells, engineering firm Arthur H. Howland & Co., Enfield construction managers, and Sherman trades people, including Beatty Construction.

The project was funded through a $1 million state library construction grant, town-approved $1 million grant, $310,000 in other state grants, and more than $600,000 in private donations.

"My husband and I moved to Sherman 12 years ago," Cushnie recalled, "and a couple of years after that we were contacted and asked to be part of the feasibility study to see what we thought about the possibility of expanding the town library."

"Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd be in this position today," she added. "I couldn't be more proud of this project and the people who have been part of it."

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