Canton library to close, but it’s a good thing

Written by on January 26, 2012 in Featured, Neighborhood News - No comments

The Canton Branch of the Pratt Library is closing at 5 p.m. Saturday, and everyone’s excited about it.

“We can’t wait,” says Mary Jurkiewicz, president of the Friends of the Canton Branch.

The main entrance of the Canton Branch will be moved to the south facade to allow for handicapped access. Enoch Pratt Free Library officials expect the branch to be closed for two years. Photo courtesy Enoch Pratt Free Library

Why is a woman who once picketed to protest a threat to close the library 15 years ago so pleased now?

Because it’s not permanent. The little library will be closed for a top-to-bottom, soup-to-nuts, complete renovation.

The rehab, which will begin Monday as Pratt Library staffers clear furniture, equipment, books and materials from the building, is expected to take two years, if all goes well.

“You never want to give an exact date when you are dealing with old buildings,” said the Pratt’s Chief of Neighborhood Services, Pat Costello.

It is an old building indeed. The Canton Branch was the first of the city’s libraries to open, and is the only one of the four original branches still in operation. Enoch Pratt himself cut the ribbon for the building 1n February, 1886.

A little under a year after celebrating its 125th anniversary, the Canton Branch will close—temporarily—for a complete overhaul.

The city has renovated the building several times over the years. It hasn’t always improved the building. The dropped ceilings are going to go, exposing the Canton Branch’s graceful arched windows and entries. The linoleum tile floor will be torn up.

And the library, which currently has its back end a half-story below the front-end reading room, will be brought to one level, increasing space for programs and creating a separate area for children’s books and programs.

The biggest change: to allow wheelchair access to the library, the front entrance, which has seven steps leading to the door and two more to the reading room, will be closed. The new entrance will be on the south side of the O’Donnell Street side of the building.

The architect, Whitney Bailey Cox & Magnani, designed a new facade for the O’Donnell Street entrance that includes a wheelchair ramp.

The creaky heating and air conditioning will be replaced. The wiring and plumbing will be new.

The front, north side, and the high-ceilinged reading room with its high vaulted ceiling, will remain the same.

“We are very conscious of the historic nature of the building. All of that will be carefully tended to,” said Costello.

While the Canton Branch is closed, regular branch visitors can try the Southeast Anchor Library less than a mile away at the corner of Eastern Ave. and Conkling St. Programs that had been held at the Canton Branch like Mother Goose Baby Steps and Preschool Leaps, are all available at Southeast. The library also offers a separate area for teens, meeting rooms, a reading garden and a café.

The next closest branch is Patterson Park at 158 N. Linwood Ave., a little more than a mile away; Mother Goose Baby Steps and Preschool Leaps are also available there.

The Friends of the Canton Branch will hold their popular annual “Canton Memories” event on Feb. 11 at 2 p.m. at Messiah Lutheran Church. The church sits at the rear of the library, on Potomac and O’Donnell streets.

by Jacqueline Watts

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