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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

Getting Ready for Construction

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, October 1, 2017


In the 1890s, Andrew Carnegie began funding public libraries in several Pittsburgh suburbs, as well as the City itself; many with auditoriums, gymnasiums, bowling alleys, and shower facilities for the workers in his steel mills.


There was some indication that his generosity would extend beyond Pittsburgh, so the Rev. Dr. A.M. Reid, the Superintendent of the Steubenville Female Seminary, wrote to Carnegie at his Castle in Scotland asking if he would fund a library for Steubenville.


Time passed, and an informal committee gathered and planned such a library using the Pittsburgh libraries as models.


The answer came in July 1899, and it was “Yes” a library for Steubenville if a site could be provided with the City providing funds for operation.


Things moved at lightning speed into autumn, and a Library Board took office in October 1899 to provide the legal structure for library operations.


Up until 1899, he had funded 6 libraries, but that number grew to 26 the year Steubenville was funded.


The surprise came in the winter of 1899 when it was found that Steubenville would receive $ 50,000 --- a large sum of money for that year, but only one-third the amount that the Pittsburgh libraries had received.


Rev. Dr. A.M. Reid wrote another letter to Carnegie on June 26, 1900 adding George W. McCook and William H. McClinton to the request that the Library Board had hired Alden & Harlow as architects; well-known to him as designers of some of his Pittsburgh libraries.


The request was to ask Carnegie for an additional $ 25,000 as the building cost much more than the promised $ 50,000.


Little information remains of what followed that letter, other than the fact that the West Wing and the Book Tower was removed from the plans and construction was underway by early 1900 demolishing the Joseph H. Sarratt Mansion at 4th and Slack Streets which had been purchased for $ 10,500 in Bonds.


Sometime before 1902, Carnegie provided another $ 12,000 to finish the building; one of few projects to receive a “second check” from the Steel Tycoon.


It was revealed in 1908 that the library building had cost over $ 80,000 with donations and budgeting filling the gap.


I feel honored to be the person guiding the completion of the 1902 plans with the upcoming renovation/construction/demolition at the Main Library to achieve some of what was planned by the original architects; and now designed by Valentour, English, Bodnar & Howell Architects of Pittsburgh, with Steubenville-native Thomas Stanko working on the project.


Over the next month, we will be moving and preparing for the closing of the Main Library building for one year, based on estimates from the architect.


The 1948 Garages, and the small 1963 annex will be demolished to make way for a fabulous new annex that will be respectful to the Victorian-Richardsonian 1902 building, blending the two together into a facility ADA accessible in all aspects.


Over the 35 years that I have served as Director, we have renovated and replaced all six branch libraries, because, frankly, the Main Library would be the most-difficult to renovate.


Some consultants and architects had suggested that the best and easiest thing to do would be to demolish everything and start over with a single-story new building.


I could picture myself being “chased out-of-town” if the Carnegie was leveled, so a difficult and tedious design process began and took 3 years of development.


The project is out-to-bid, and we are beginning a month-long process involving the computer system changes, as well as the moving of the Bookmobile Services to a temporary location.


Some equipment and furnishings will also move to storage, and other items will move to the North and South Reading Rooms for storage.


The Main Library building will close on Friday, October 27 for construction.  Staff will be relocated to the Schiappa and Toronto Branches which will assume the business of the Main Library for the year of construction.


The Bookmobile has been adjusted to be outside the Main Library on Wednesdays for service.


I am so excited that this is happening, but apprehensive of all the work involved, and the things we have forgotten in the process.


Set you sights on the finished product in November 2018.