The Friends of the Library celebrated the opening of the renovated Great Hall with a donor reception on September 27, 2012.
People who once prayed at St. Michael’s Church, community members who donated money to build a library there, and workers who renovated the historic building were among the 175 people who filled the former sanctuary to celebrate completion of the construction phase of the new South Berwick Public Library.
Donors and other invited guests at last week’s reception watched the ceremonial removal of the last piece of wall separating the renovated Great Hall from the new addition, where the Library has been operating in cramped quarters since March.
“The universal reaction upon seeing the entire space opened up seems to be ‘wow!’” said Patti Mitchem, chair of the Friends of South Berwick Library’s capital campaign. “I have to say, South Berwick deserves this beautiful library. It is a credit to the town that, together, we have created a very special place, welcoming to all. It doesn’t surprise me that so many residents have made donations to this unique project.”
The guests were among the first to view the completed structure on Young Street, about four times the size of the old library on Portland Street. The audience admired the soaring ceiling and the stained glass windows above the former choir loft while speakers addressed them from the former altar stairs, soon to be the children’s area.
All the while, high school students meandered through the crowd, offering heaping trays of hors d’oeuvres donated by Spring Hill restaurant.
Though renovation of the building is virtually complete, the Friends’ fundraising efforts are not, the guests were reminded by Harland Goodwin, a member of the Capital Campaign Committee that has pledged $1.1 million toward the project. While the first phase, soliciting support from larger donors, is winding down, the Friends next will be moving out into the community for broader support.
“In my career as a fundraiser, people often say to me, ‘Are you going to ask us to give until it hurts?’ and I always tell them, ‘No, I’m going to ask you to give until it feels good,’” said Goodwin. "And that's what I'm encouraging you to do today."
He particularly recognized the Children’s Leadership Council, which made a $2,000 donation that evening.
Already, the library is doing its work, noted radio DJ Brian Fogarty of Greenland, NH, a native of South Berwick and former altar boy at St. Michael’s, who welcomed guests to the reception. “Just tonight, I turned the corner of a stack to find a boy sitting cross-legged on the floor reading a book.”
Fogarty said he is thrilled that this important building has been preserved, noting that the church steeple “once a beacon of faith, will now be a beacon of knowledge.”
Cynthia Gagnon, honorary co-chair of the Capital Campaign, reminded the gathering that it’s been more than 14 years since townspeople began working toward a new library, and in that time many plans were proposed and then rejected, but it is working out perfectly in the end.
"Perhaps the library god knew for all those years that St, Michael's Church would become available. So instead of having a generic blocky new building, we have this very special location that adds to the village, the school and best of all...has parking," she remarked later.
The younger generation also was represented at the event. Dawson Scharf had polled his classmates at Marshwood Middle School about preferred Library services, and he took the podium to suggest workshops on shooting and editing high resolution films, which is “really ‘in’ with my demographic,” he said, as well as social marketing tutorials.
The formal presentation ended with Marshwood High School student Lane Klossner singing “I Belong Just Here.”
“I remember when I got my first library card,” said 15-year-old Klossner. “I remember how exciting it was to fill in each blank line. Ever since then the library has been a special place for me.”