Dee Neff, Carolyn Scott, and Frank Yeager met with LebTown to discuss the progress of the Annville Free Library’s $4.5 million expansion project in the works since 2017. The three have deep roots with the library founded in 1939 and the surrounding areas.
Neff moved to Lebanon from Lancaster before accepting the library director position, which she has held for about 25 years. Scott has lived with her husband in Annville for almost 50 years and is a member of the board of directors and the expansion committee. Yeager, the board treasurer and capital campaign co-chair, grew up in Annville and Cleona, moved away, and returned to the area about 30 years ago.
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The Annville Free Library reached 97 percent of its $4.5 million fundraising goal for the expansion project and made plans for additional funds raised. Yeager said what was originally a $2 million goal turned into $4.5 million due to supply chain issues.
“We have less than 13,000 people in our service area. So, it is fabulous, the support we’ve gotten,” Yeager said. “I don’t think anyone thought we could do it. I don’t think we thought we could do it.”
The Annville Free Library’s service area includes Annville, North Annville, South Annville, and Cleona. Each municipality contributed to the expansion project. Annville oversaw the grants, and Yeager said, “They’ve been a huge part of the lifting of this project.”
A timeline was attached to each major grant the library received. On Sept. 5, the library moved into the addition and began renovating the original library building.
The Keystone Library Grant officer signed off on the addition on Sept. 6. The date was well within the timeline attached to the grant from the Commonwealth Libraries. Scott said the addition’s ADA-accessible entrance that replaced the former entrance, which involved a narrow, 90-degree turn, was a significant focus of the grant.
Another grant the library received from the state requires that they complete renovations to the original library building by the end of 2024. Yeager said the library will be done with what that grant is funding by the end of this fall.
The library also received grants from the Bishop Foundation, BlueScope, and Hershey.
For the expansion project, the library purchased a neighboring duplex and repurposed it as part of the addition. The library gutted the duplex, removing interior walls and stairways.
The library then restabilized the structure of the duplex from the basement up “to meet the library standards, which are much higher because books weigh a lot. Or if you have groups of people meeting, that also requires a different standard than a residence,” Scott said.
Because the library and the addition are located within the Annville Historic District, the library was required to obtain building permits and appear before the Historic Architectural Review Board to seek approval. The project’s master plan was crafted by Hickey Architects, a firm that had earlier designed the streetscape of Annville Street in the early 2000s. During the planning stages, the library collaborated with Carol Hickey from Hickey Architecture and the Annville Township Historic Architectural Review Board to find a harmony between historical and modern architectural elements.
To meet the historic preservation standards, the library will also update the outdoor lighting in the customary style and repoint the brick on the building.
The addition created space for a community center, which, in turn, created space for more programming and community members.
“Before, the only meeting space for the community was in the children’s library downstairs,” Scott said. “It was one space that served everything. So, if there were groups coming in … they could not linger and socialize.”
“This community room here was built just for that. We were turning people away who wanted to meet here. We couldn’t accommodate them. So, that gave us the impetus to do that,” Yeager said. “And also, there was nobody else going to build a community center in this community. So, we listened, and here it is.”
So far, Yeager said the community center is being used almost every day.
“We do hope to have more programming here because now we have the space to do it. There were several interest groups that happened here,” Neff said. “I put in our newsletter every time it goes out that if anyone would like to start an interest group, please contact me because we will help you do that, and you can meet here.”
“I’m really happy to have an office again,” Neff said. Her new office was a personal highlight of the expansion project after not having one for years. “I was in the workroom like everybody else. And it was okay. But I think it was harder to get things done because … people were always talking to me.”
The entirely ADA-accessible addition also features two new ADA-accessible bathrooms, an elevator, and a stairway that replaces a narrow, steep stairway leading to the basement from the first floor of the addition.
ADA-accessible parking is available in the parking lot to the library’s rear. St. Mark Lutheran Church also allows the library to use its parking lot as well as American Legion Post 559 and its lot on the east side of Manheim Street.
“We’ve put in a number of improvements that aren’t totally visible,” Scott said. “So, a more robust Wi-Fi system because we saw in COVID-19, when the shutdowns happened, how people depended on access. … You know, we had people in our parking lot to access the Wi-Fi. And we know that people like to come into libraries with their own devices and use the available Wi-Fi.”
“Also, the improvement of the air quality overall, including in the older building. And that has been important to us,” Scott said of the brand-new HVAC system with a total of eight units handling the different areas. “At first, we viewed it as a way to, you know, you do not know what unknown or known respiratory viruses are coming down. But then, with these wildfires everywhere and the bad air, that becomes even more important.”
Yeager estimates that another $300,000 to $350,000 is needed to get everything done that they have planned. That additional funding will help ensure that the existing library structure can be renovated to finish out the master plan. William and Carol Christ are honorary co-chairs of the Writing the Next Chapter capital campaign. Donation options are viewable here.
The library still needs to purchase large monitors for the community center and electronics for the youth center, replacement windows for the repurposed duplex building, an electric sign to replace its existing sign in front of the library, and supplies for a naming wall and a rain garden planned for behind the library, which will be planted soon.
The library is planning to create a creativity center/maker’s space, which would be the last yet-to-be-created part of the library directly tied to programming. Yeager said, “It’ll have an industrial look to it. We’re not going to make it nice and fancy.”
“Well, that’s sort of been my vision,” Neff said of the creativity center/maker’s space. “I see it as a place for all ages. But I want to have … people to come there, to be able to craft, or to do video, or for children to do play with the robots and that kind of thing.”
The Dixon Foundation gave the library a grant for furniture and supplies for the creativity center/maker’s space once it is created, which Yeager said, “For that, we’re very pleased.” But the capital for creating it is still needed.
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Neff said she would like to see a sink and a sewing machine added to the Cricut Machine and Silhouette the library already has designated for the creativity center/maker’s space.
Further, the library plans to transform the addition’s unfinished second-floor level into “a workspace” where staff can work on and store projects in progress, like large posters they would not be able to in shared library spaces. Yeager quipped the upstairs could also be used as “a staff escape area.”
Scott said, “The downstairs will become a dedicated children’s library so can be all for their activities and story times.” The children’s library will have an ADA-accessible family bathroom.
“The older part of the library stayed pretty much the same in terms of the decor and things like that,” Yeager said. “It will look pretty much like they’re used to seeing it. But everything else will be up to date, modern.”
Renovations of the original library building will involve a small bookstore, several study rooms, a work room, and an area known as “Lillie’s Place.” Lillie Struble was the “godmother of this place,” Yeager said of the Annville Free Library’s founder. Some of her family members, who will be traveling as far as south of Oregon, will be in attendance at the grand opening.
The Annville Free Library will hold a grand opening on Nov. 11, starting at 10 a.m. Following the ceremony, there will be an open house for the library until about 1 p.m.
By the grand opening, the library hopes to have the majority of the original library building renovations, the children’s library, and the creativity center/maker’s space completed.
“(What) I really want to mention, though, is a great big thank you for all the people who helped make this come true. I mean, it starts with our committee, all the townships. Our architect, (Arthur) Funk & Sons Inc., is doing all the construction and working, overseeing Speedwell (Construction),” Yeager said, also mentioning the library’s updated website.
Editor’s note: This article was updated after publication to include information about the project’s architect, Hickey Architects.
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