'Bring this library into this 21st century': New Milford library nearing end of $8.5M renovation

NEW MILFORD — A new children’s department, a teen-designated space and added public seating areas are just some of the features that will soon be in New Milford Public Library as a $8.5 million renovation project approaches completion.

The update adds 6,500 square feet, bringing the new total to 22,000 square feet. The project was proposed in 2016 and began in June 2020. It is expected to be completed by the end of January 2022, said Director Lorna Rhyins, who started working at the library in June.

The library hadn’t been renovated in more than 40 years, and two previous attempts to do so failed — in 2003 and 2008 — due to lack of funding.

“Three times is the charm and it is very exciting for me and also for my library staff, but I also think that it was a wonderful decision because this library is just going to be a benefit for everybody here in town,” Rhyins said. “Despite the fact that it’s been such long time in coming, it’s going to be worth every bit of the time and energy that everybody put into making it happen.”

This renovation involves three historic buildings that are tied together — the interiors of two of them will be entirely redone, with modern HVAC, new flooring and new drywall; and the third, a 1979 addition that connected the two buildings, will get a second story.

“The premise of this whole project was to bring this library into this 21st century while maintaining its historic presence in this beautiful, colonial New England town on Main Street here in New Milford,” said Steven Vazquez, the library’s clerk of the works.

Maria Bernier, statewide data coordinator at the Connecticut State Library, said the only other library in the state that hasn’t reopened since COVID-19 is the Brainerd Memorial Library in Haddam. Like the New Milford library, this is also due to a renovation project.

Main areas

The renovation includes new meeting spaces and public seating areas.

“There is a new, large meeting room for the public, as well as three small one- or two-person study rooms,” Rhyins said.

Additionally, the history room that contained the library’s historical books has moved from downstairs into the new upstairs space, and will be significantly larger, Rhyins said.

Also, a floor to ceiling window area is being added on both the upper and lower levels in the front of the building, which looks out over the hills of New Milford.

“There’ll be comfortable seating in the space in front of those windows,” Rhyins said.

Additionally, the library will be adding a makerspace.

“This will be a creative learning space for all ages where we will have various and different types of equipment for both digital learning and for people to do things that are functional,” Rhyins said.

Examples of equipment include a high-quality photo stand where the public can scan photos; a 3-D printer, and a digital cutting machine.

Additionally, the library’s old reading room in the 1897 building will be refurnished and remodeled.

“It used to be a part of the children’s room but now will be an elegantly furnished space with a redone fireplace and all new furnishings with beautiful lamps and upholstered chairs and sofa,” Rhyins said. “That will be the elegance of quiet reading space in the library.”

Children, teen areas

The children’s department will now have its own story-time and craft room.

“The children never had their own story-time room before,” Rhyins said. “They had shared the meeting room that was used for the adults.”

Additionally, the children’s library will be getting a hometown feel with a two-story replica of the iconic bandstand on the town green.

“That bandstand is representative of our town. It’s a very special space that we have,” Rhyins said. “It’s something that people recognize about New Milford and so we thought if we did that indoors, it would be a fun reading and play space for kids.”

Another change is teens will be getting their own designated space for the first time.

“This will be completely separate from the children’s department,” Rhyins said. “It will have study space and also have comfortable seating space and a dedicated teen book area.”

Previously, the teens books lined the elevator hallway, which was part of the children’s department.

There was also no separate seating space for teens.

“This is a really exciting space for them to have their own space,” Rhyins said. “It will have teen friendly furniture, such as cushy bench seating.”

COVID-19 delays and related upgrades

The pandemic delayed the availability of materials needed for the renovation — for items ranging from lights to plywood, Vazquez said. Additionally, the project also had labor issues as a result of the pandemic.

All of those factors played a role in the delayed re-opening, Vazquez said.

“We have been doing everything that we can to keep on schedule but at the end of the day, if something is beyond your control, you have to do the best you can — that’s about all you can do,” he added.

COVID-19 also factored into some of the upgrade decisions. Most of the floors and furniture will be able to be cleaned easily, and are very durable. Much of the furniture will also be mobile to allow for social distancing if needed, Vazquez said.

The library also upgraded its ventilation system. “We’re adding a very high level of filtration in the ventilation system — more akin to a hospital level of ventilation,” he said.

A state American Rescue Plan Act grant for $18,200 will cover some of the mobile seating. There will also be mobile bookshelves for all of the new books on the lower level.

“Mobile bookshelves can be shifted around to create traffic patterns if needed,” Rhyins said.

Additionally, the grant will provide patio space in front of the library and a solar recharging station on the patio.

Funding, ongoing services

The total budget for the project is $8.5 million. The town of New Milford is paying $6.5 million; the Board of Trustees is paying $1 million, and the State of Connecticut Library is paying $1 million.

While the library has been under construction, staff has been working out of the 1896 house. Although the library building is closed to the public during this time, many services are available including curbside pick-up and online programming. Additionally, there is offsite programming at the Marsh Parish House behind the First Congregational Church, at 36 Main St., and several groups meet regularly on the town green.

The library will be sending out a survey to gather feedback from the public on additional features they would like to see. Those who have suggestions can email lrhyins@biblio.org.

Rhyins credited the Friends of the New Milford Public Library, the Board of Trustees, the mayor, and all the volunteers who helped make the project happen.

“I’m so happy to be a part of this project and I feel extremely lucky to have joined the New Milford Public Library at such an exciting time,” she said.

sfox@milfordmirror.com