Construction of Westwood’s new public library has finally reached the home stretch after three years of planning, fund-raising, and moving a 200-ton historic schoolhouse out of the way to
But residents have to hold on for a little while longer before they can use the cutting-edge, $13.9 million facility, with its top-of-the-line technology, art gallery, private study areas, and public meeting rooms.
Though it looks ready to go, it will be at least several more weeks for exterior work to be completed before it opens, in May or June, officials said.
No one is more eager to fling open the doors than Tom Viti, the town’s library director for more than three decades. Viti is urging patience but said he understands the frustration folks must feel.
“When people drive by the library, they see the lights on and books are on the shelves but still they can’t come in,’’ Viti said. “Everywhere I go, they ask me about it.”
Logistics, though, have been challenging. The new library, about a block from Town Hall on
High Street, was built on the lot that once held the 1874 Colburn School, which in turn was sitting vacant next door to the former 43-year-old library building.
To build a new library, the old school was moved to the back of the library’s parking lot in late 2010. In October, the old library was closed, later demolished, and recently, the Colburn began its journey back to the roadside, this time taking over the old library’s spot.
The Queen Anne-style school building was to be rotated 90 degrees to face the new library, and its new owner, Coffman Realty of Brockton, plans to turn it into a bank on the ground floor and six condos on the upper floors.
Viti said Hurricane Sandy contributed to delays, as did the discovery of a layer of asbestos on the old library’s foundation.
Town Manager Mike Jaillet said the library will be a significant town asset when it opens.
“Although the interior of the building is fully constructed and ready for use, the unfinished parking area makes it impossible to safely accommodate the expected surge in patronage that
comes with a newly opened facility,’’ he said.
Jaillet gave credit to the town’s Permanent Building Committee for keeping the project within budget while enforcing a high-quality standard for the construction.
The library was funded by a $9.3 million override of the tax limits of Proposition 2½, a $4 million state library grant, and private donations.
“Once we are open, people will be delighted with what they see,’’ Viti said. “We want to get the word out. It’s going to be great.”
It’s clear from a recent tour that he could be right.
The soaring, two-story structure with huge windows and natural lighting contains gallery space for art exhibits, with café tables and wireless Internet access. Its large public meeting room with kitchen facilities seats 100 and has automated darkening shades and a drop-down projector for presentations. A smaller conference room can accommodate 30 people.
Because of the open-floor plan of the foyer area, a sound muffling system has been installed t0 soften noise floating up from busy places, including the children’s room. That sprawling area is packed with books and glass display cases for handmade projects.
The children’s room connects to a program room with tables and art supplies with a door that leads to a planned garden where story time will be held in good weather, Viti said.
Sweeping granite stairs — there is also an elevator — lead to the second floor, where many of the library’s 80,000 books are shelved in adult, teen, and reference sections. Here there are also private rooms for studying or writing, and a cozy arrangement of chairs near a fireplace for reading.
All materials are outfitted with radio frequency identification chips for security and sorting purposes. The library has three computer networks, 60 new computers, and a high-tech sorting system behind the circulation desk that, activated by that chip in each book, automatically separates materials into a series of appropriate bins for filing.
The library has an extensive magazine and art book collection, and a special room for its Friends, a group of 18 volunteers who hold book sales and other fund-raisers, including an annual membership campaign, to lend financial support.
President Diane Parazin said the Friends contributed $50,000 for the library construction and are proud to have played a role.
“The building is truly amazing, a 21st-century marvel,’’ she said. “I’m certain it is destined to become the new town center — a long overdue necessity.”
There will be something for everyone, including monthly open houses where the Friends will offer books, and a few surprises, for sale, she said.
Blending the old with the new, the airy, modern building has mementos from the former library, including a hand-carved wooden seal of the town and a bicentennial quilt that hung on its walls for 36 years, Viti said. Children’s murals have been saved and installed, as well as another painted by artist Rufus Porter, founder of Scientific American magazine.
Viti said he can’t wait to hand the library over to the town, because it’s the community’s building.
“And we are just grateful for so much collaboration and cooperation,” he said.
More information is available at www.westwoodlibrary.org.