By Tessa Raebeck
The Sag Harbor community has come together to underwrite the dedication of two spaces at the renovated and expanded John Jermain Memorial Library for two women who were instrumental in the planning stages of the new facility, which is expected to be finished by October.
The memories of Gail Slevin and Christiane Neuville will be honored with two named spaces in the library, a plaza in the front of the building for Ms. Slevin and a media room for Ms. Neuville.
While the spaces are among many parts of the library that have been named in honor of people, the spaces Ms. Neuville and Ms. Slevin “are particularly lovely because they are spaces that have been underwritten by many, many people,” said Library Director Catherine Creedon.
When the library first embarked on the campaign to fundraise for its renovation and addition, a hired consultant made the point that a campaign must have a large lead gift or it will not be a success.
“We didn’t do that,” said Ms. Creedon, “our lead gift was a pebble, I guess, that was thrown in and we’ve been able to have a very successful capital campaign through word of mouth and community support and groups of people coming together, whether it’s for these named spaces or through our events like One for the Books.”
Both the women were pioneers in the push for a new space for the library, which they believed was at the cornerstone of a strong community.
Ms. Neuville, who died at age 85 on August 8, 2012, was one of the first elected members of the library’s board, where she served two terms and three years as president. A champion of libraries and education, Ms. Neuville grew up in France, was active in the French Resistance, and worked as a teacher until her retirement in 2000, which brought her to Sag Harbor.
“She was part of the board that hired me,” Ms. Creedon said, “and was a firm believer in the power of public libraries to build community.”
Ms. Neuville, she added, “was one of the early advocates for the expansion of the library and worked very hard to bring consensus to the community when there was still a lot of discussion about what the library of the future should look like, so she was an awesome person.”
The Christiane Neuville Biography and Memoir Collection will be a media room, fitting for a library of the future, where all members of the community can come to learn.
Ms. Slevin died on July 29, 2014, at age 70 and will be honored with the Gail Carpenter Slevin Plaza, outside of the library’s Main Street door.
Ms. Slevin “was actually never on the board,” Ms. Creedon said, “although she was such a wonderful supporter of the library that everybody thought she was on the board.”
When the One for the Books event began in 2006, Ms. Slevin was on its first committee, and she continued to run the highly successful fundraising event as chair of the committee from 2008 through 2013.
Before the spaces can be enjoyed and the women honored, however, the building must be completed. Ms. Creedon is hopeful as ever that that long-awaited day is finally approaching.
“The weather has certainly had an impact,” she said Tuesday of the winter storms stalling construction. “Although I was up there today and I just had that feeling that things have been happening.”
The ductwork in the new addition is in, the limestone is going up, pieces of glass should be going into the glass curtain wall next week, and the restoration of the original building is almost finished.
On Tuesday, Ms. Creedon was able to sit on the bench seat that will wrap around the window wall in the fiction wing, look over Ms. Slevin’s plaza and out onto Main Street.
“It was pretty exciting,” said the patient director.
A video walkthrough of the old building is available on the library’s Facebook page and website, and Ms. Creedon hopes to post a second video walking through the new addition once the weather gets “just a little bit warmer.”
Ms. Creedon said the major work of the building should be completed this summer, with an anticipated official move-in date of October 10, which fittingly falls on the library’s 105th birthday and Columbus Day Weekend, “a really fun time to have a grand community celebration.”
“Things are really moving along,” said the director. “We’ve been really lucky to have as much community support as we’ve had…the fundraising is continuing, people are continuing to look for ways to support the project, which is just wonderful.”
The library has raised $3.3 million since its first One for the Books event in 2006, and has an additional $750,000 to $800,000 in pledges and outstanding grants that will be coming in over the next couple of years.
There are two naming opportunities still available, for the elevator and new wing, and anyone interested in funding a commemorative space or book space in honor of someone can contact Ms. Creedon at the library, (631) 725-0049, ext. 223.