The foresight of the Peabody Public Library board 10 years ago has become a reality with the completion of Phase I of a $1.2 million expansion project.
When the library was initially constructed, a large empty hole was to be excavated under the main floor of the library. The board at the time chose to go ahead and pour the concrete and leave it as an unfinished area with an eye to future expansion.
That future is now, as the empty space has been transformed into an auditorium — the Robert E. Brittain Memorial auditorium, to be specific — named in honor of the longtime CCHS English teacher, who was so much more. He was also the library board’s president at the time of his death.
The room has a stage and can seat 250. It also includes a projection room, spotlights and a sound system. The room can be divided into three smaller rooms, each which comes with large flat-screen monitors that can be used for smaller groups and computer-based presentations.
Library director Janet Scank said in hindsight it is a good thing the library waited 10 years to complete the basement of the building, citing the rapid changes in technology that have taken place in the last decade.
While the auditorium was the biggest part of Phase I, there are some other components of the project as well. Additional parking was created on the east side of the building and administration offices were moved to the lower level of the library.
The move by the administration offices makes way for Phases II and III of the project.
Phase II, which is underway, includes expanding and moving the computer lab. The lab, which now has room for 10, will double in capacity and move downstairs to occupy an area with the library’s tech services department. The current lab will become another study room.
The Indiana room, which houses genealogy records and local history documents will be moved to the former administration offices, and the periodicals — magazines and newspapers — will take over the current Indiana room. A special addition to the new periodical room is the return of the fireplace that at one time was part of the old Peabody Library downtown. The fireplace will be placed along the west wall of the room.
The space opened by Indiana and periodical room moves will be turned into a young adult area, which is Phase III of the project.
“The young adult area is a plan that has changed quite a bit from (10 years ago),” Scank said.
When the library was originally built, the idea was for children and young adults to share a space. It works, Scank said of the current arrangement, but said young adults really want a place of their own and that’s the idea behind the young adult room.
“It’s a place for them to go,” Scank said.
The whole project is expected to be completed by Nov. 15, but Scank said a more realistic completion date is the end of the year.
“The demand is here now,” Scank said of the project that has been on the board’s radar for many years. “We knew when we built this that at some point in the near future we would have to expand.”
Approximately 200,000 people visit the library each year and since the library opened in 1999, 1.6 million visitors have passed through its doors. In 2008, there were only seven days out of the year that at least one of the library’s community rooms was not reserved for use.
With all the changes, there are no plans to add staff, Scank said, but she is always in need of volunteers.
“I’ll find something for them to do.”