HARTFORD —— The city's oldest public library branch has reopened after undergoing extensive renovations that morphed the former utilitarian-style facility into a more modern, colorful environment.
The Dwight Branch, located in a section of the Parkville Elementary School on New Park Avenue, had closed in October 2011 for the upgrades. The library opened its doors a few weeks ago. A ceremony celebrating the reopening will be held there on Dec. 3 at 1 p.m.
A 1,100-square-foot addition to the branch has doubled its size, said Matthew K. Poland, executive director of the Hartford Public Library. The addition has enabled the library to add a space specifically designed for teenagers — who make up about 60 percent of the branch's visitors — and more room for computers and computer training programs.
The cinderblock walls have been removed, Poland said, and large, glass panels were installed at the front of the branch "so the community can see in and feel it's a comfortable place to go."
"It was a very severe concrete and cinderblock building," he said. "The interior was very hard and very utilitarian, lined with bookshelves. Now, there's a colorful youth section with beautiful floors for youngsters to play on.
"The branch before was really, really tiny and cramped and people were unable to really do any programs. It was designed to house a collection of books and address the issue of lending. Now there's a place for everyone to work on different projects at the same time."
While the branch still offers books and DVDs, many of the reference materials are in Internet databases rather than "on shelves in dusty volumes," Poland said.
A small amphitheater was constructed just outside the library for outdoor programs.
The renovations cost $1.5 million, which was paid for with a $500,000 state library construction grant and $1 million of city money, Poland said.
Perhaps the library's biggest hope for the renovated space is that it becomes a community gathering spot.
"We're hoping it serves in a more regular way as a space for the community to come together and talk about issues that affect them and utilize our resources to help solve some of those problems," Poland said. "Libraries can help facilitate conversation and we're looking to increase that in that neighborhood."
The Dwight Branch was first established in 1907 in a portion of the now-defunct New Park Avenue School on Grace Street. It moved in 1928 to rented quarters on Park Street, and in 1979 settled in a wing of the Parkville Elementary School. It receives about 32,000 visitors a year.
Poland said he is optimistic that the number would grow. The library's Albany Avenue branch has seen a 10-percent increase in traffic since it reopened in October 2011, after undergoing renovations.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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