By Tessa Raebeck; photography by Michael Heller
Although her West Water Street office is temporary, the words on the brass plaque decorating it are permanently ingrained in Catherine Creedon’s mind.
“Faithful and untiring in all her duties she made the library a blessing to those who entered it and to the village of Sag Harbor,” reads the commemoration for Mrs. Olive Pratt Young, the librarian for Sag Harbor’s John Jermain Memorial Library (JJML) from 1910 to 1922.
The words resonate with Creedon, JJML’s current director, who has spent the better part of four years overseeing the fundraising and implementation of a building and expansion project that has been repeatedly stalled and altered due to unforeseen obstacles.
The project officially began in June 2009, when the library passed a referendum vote for the restoration and expansion of its historic building at 201 Main Street.
“That vote passed with huge community support,” recalled Creedon. “We had an 84 percent yes vote and it was for roughly $10 million in debt service to provide for the restoration and expansion.”
Creedon and the library board trustees were aware at the time that the project would cost more than the $10 million allotted by the referendum. So the library made a commitment to the community to raise an additional $2 million expected to cover the remainder of the project.
Since the project was first proposed, however, the construction team encountered several problems that stalled development, increased costs and ultimately required Creedon and the board to seek supplementary sources of private funding.
“The restoration was more complex than we anticipated,” said Creedon.
The building’s historic dome required stabilization because the terra cotta brickwork supporting it was more fragile than had been thought and a steel compression ring that held the dome in place had corroded, according to Creedon. The condition of the dome was not realized until the copper was removed during the initial phases of the restoration process.
The updated exterior restoration was finally completed this summer. Work then began on the excavation for the new addition, during which the library encountered issues with the soil bearing capacity of the site’s foundation. Done in the project’s early predesign stages, original soil borings proved inaccurate once excavation began and the initial design plans were rendered obsolete (see sidebar).
“We’re currently working with engineers to redesign the foundation and the support for the foundation in order to take into account the revised calculations for the soil bearing capacity,” Creedon said on Monday.
Through a combination of pledges, grants and direct donations, JJML has managed to raise $2.7 million in additional funding.
“We exceeded our commitment to the community,” explained Creedon. “Now, we’re looking to raise another million dollars in order to complete the project as planned. We’re committed to doing that without going back to the community to raise taxes, we’re committed to doing it through grants and through fundraising.”
To monitor the final phase of the extended fundraising process, JJML has unveiled a new statue designed and donated by library patron and local artist Aidan Corish. The statue currently holds just one book, “Great Expectations,” but a vibrantly colored book will be added to the stack with each $200,000 raised. Once the fundraising goal is met, the books can be repurposed for use as furniture, bookshelves and decoration in the children’s room of the new library.
“He totally came up with this very generous idea,” said Creedon. “He designed it, he took care of the installation of it. The idea is that this stack of books will measure our success in raising that last million dollars to bring our capital campaign to a completion for the restoration and expansion. Like many other people, he’s passionate about the importance of a public library in the community.”
“I will say that we’ve had significant community support,” the library director continued. “I’m not a natural fundraiser, but it’s been a very moving experience to work with people and to see their commitment to the library.”
Several private parties have come forward with large donations to secure naming opportunities, but a few options remain in need of support.
One such benefactor opportunity is for the new local history room, a climate controlled archive for rare historic materials. The collection includes whaling logs and a copy of the Eliot Bible, the first bible printed in the Western Hemisphere. Printed in Massachusetts between 1660 and 1663 by the Puritan clergyman and pastor John Eliot, the bible is translated into the Natick dialect of the region’s Algonquin tribes. The local history room will also have a section devoted to modern day “history as it happens,” which the library is currently collecting from sources around town.
Other naming opportunities for large donors include the local business center, which includes “state of the art technology, computers, assisted technology for people with physical impairments and everything that would allow a Sag Harbor resident to have access to state of the art business tools,” said Creedon.
Creedon is also in search of a benefactor for the new library’s community garden, which will include a plaza with Internet connectivity and outdoor seating.
With the extent of funding required to fulfill the project, the library’s annual upcoming fundraising event, “One for the Books” underwent several changes this year. Started in 2006, the event traditionally was a series of dinner parties held throughout Sag Harbor. The hosts of the parties were a mystery until guests arrived.
“This year, we decided to shake it up a little bit,” said Creedon of the event, now in its eighth year.
In order to have capacity for more guests and thus the potential for more fundraising, this year’s “One for the Books” consists of individual cocktail parties. On two Saturday nights, October 12 and October 19 from 6 to 8 p.m., guests are invited to enjoy cocktails at a Sag Harbor home with the potential to meet one or more of nine participating local authors.
At the October 12 party, E.L. Doctorow, David Margolick, Suzanne McNear, David Scott Kastan and Tom Clavin will be in attendance. On October 19, guests can mingle with Joe Pintauro, Eric Fischl, Mac Griswold and Alan Furst. Tickets start at $100 available by phone at 725-0049 ext. 244 or on the library’s website at johnjermain.org.
“The event would not happen without the help of the people in the community and that’s not just the people who run and organize the event, but the very many generous hosts we’ve had over the years,” said Creedon. “It’s been a wonderful fundraiser for us as well as a great chance to have people involved in the life of the library.”
“One for the Books” has raised around $160,000 over the course of its history and Creedon is hopeful the event will help add a new book to Corish’s stack. Due to extensive fundraising efforts and continual redesign, the building and restoration project continues to move forward despite the setbacks.
When the new building is completed, the plaque for Mrs. Olive Pratt Young will move to the director’s new office, where it could someday be joined by commemoration for another library employee “faithful and untiring in all her duties.”
“I really feel that a strong library is the heart of a strong community,” said Creedon. “It’s been really overwhelming to work with people who not only feel that way but are in a position to make that dream come true for everybody in Sag Harbor.”
JJML Building Update
Before construction commenced on the library’s building and expansion project, soil borings were executed to evaluate the soil and its ability to support a structure. These initial tests revealed that a shallow foundation with spread footings was adequate to hold the structure. Upon excavation this past summer, however, it became clear that although the initial soil borings were accurate in some areas, in other locations the soil bearing capacity was incorrect and thus the original design was rendered erroneous.
After additional soil borings were performed, several areas showed lower soil bearing capacity than initially determined. When faced with such a problem, the usual response is to extend the spread footings further. In the case of the library, however, such an extension would reach outside of the property boundaries and is thus not a viable option.
The library instead altered the design and plans to install helical piles, essentially long screws made from galvanized steel and twisted into the soil, that will be topped with a concrete beam, so as to distribute the building’s weight equally despite the low soil bearing capacity of some areas.