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Article Published September 11, 2019
First Look: Branford’s Blackstone Library Addition
Pam Johnson, Senior Staff Writer

On Sept. 6, supporters of Branford’s Blackstone Library expansion and renovation project were treated to a first look at the newly completed rear entrance lobby addition. The new entrance is expected to open for public use later this month.

The new addition at the back of the library hugs the original building while also providing 2,000 square feet of expanded space. With sliding glass doors that are handicapped-accessible, it provides a new public ground-floor access point off the library’s rear principle parking area. The addition creates an exciting new foyer/lobby and circulation desk area as well as a new exterior gathering space, its rooftop patio terrace.

The addition balances a brand-new interior to enrich the public space while embracing the iconic building’s 19th-century roots.

In fact, the new addition’s marble exterior is a perfect match, coming from the same Tennessee quarry that supplied marble for the original library building, which began operating in 1896.

The new entrance opens to reveal a curving, expanded lobby space. A circulation desk stretches along one side, backed by a cutaway wall revealing windows and the marble exterior architecture of some of the original library building. Newly installed windows top a lengthy window bench that’s just inside the entrance. The windows add natural light to an array of lighting fixtures warming the lobby’s wood paneled walls, white ceilings, and slate floors. The lobby also provides two new restrooms before dovetailing with an opening into the library’s original lower level.

Access to the outdoor terrace is located beside the auditorium entrance on the library’s main floor, one flight up. The terrace can also be reached by exterior stairs on the Cedar Street side of the addition.

Work to construct the new library addition broke ground in December 2018. The addition was designed by Silver/Petrucelli + Associates of Hamden and built under the management of Downes Construction of New Britain.

The expansion/renovation project now will focus completing interior upgrades and renovations that have been underway and will continue through the end of the year. The library will continue to remain open throughout the process.

The addition/renovation is a $5.2 million town-bonded project, with $1 million of that cost to be defrayed by a Connecticut State Library grant and more than $800,000 of the cost secured by the Campaign for the Blackstone, a project of the Blackstone Board of Trustees.

On Sept. 6, local and state legislative leaders and representatives of organizations that have lent support through many years of planning, fundraising, and approvals needed for the project crowded the reception as they enjoyed their first look at the new addition.

Among those in the celebratory crowd were First Selectman Jamie Cosgrove (R), State Senator Christine Cohen (D-12), State Representative Robin Comey (D-102), and former State representative Lonnie Reed, members of the Branford Representative Town Meeting, Blackstone Board of Trustee members, members of the Friends of the Blackstone Library, and major contributors and supporters including representatives of the Branford Community Foundation, among others.

Trustees President Robin Sandler and Library Director Karen Jensen were on hand to greet those in attendance, together with past trustee president Andy McKirdy.

McKirdy helped shepherd the project and fundraising efforts for some nine years prior to the end of his tenure in 2018.

Taking in the new lobby on Sept. 6, McKirdy said, “it is just so marvelous. I can’t imagine how happy so many people who use the lobby are going to be, and people who haven’t been using the library, how happy they’re going to be when they have an opportunity to enter through this beautiful entryway.”

Jensen said the entire project is on schedule and on budget. She said special public celebrations for the completion of the library project are in the planning to be held in spring 2020.

“We’ll have grand opening ceremonies and programs in the spring, once the entire project is done. This isn’t the last celebration,” said Jensen.