DRACUT — It has been a long, frustrating wait. But good things come to those who wait, they say.
On May 7 all are invited to flock to the much-anticipated grand opening of the Moses Greeley Parker Memorial Library, a celebration more than two years in the waiting. And it is magnificent.
“We’ve all walked it, but we really didn’t understand the size of the building. That was probably the biggest shock,” said Library Director Susan Schwarz, as she and her staff of six and a team of volunteers frantically scrambled to dust and display their 80,000-piece collection and make sure everything is in working order.
The $7.4 million, two-story, 29,000-square-foot Arlington Street building fell nearly a year behind schedule, while the library staff and a fraction of its collection were squeezed into a narrow, temporary space at Lakeview Junior High.
Although the staff appreciated the School Department’s hospitality in housing them for two years, the conditions were less than ideal.
About half of its collection remained in storage at Harmony Hall, adjacent to the Dracut Historical Society building on Lakeview Avenue. The computers continually froze or crashed, and the school’s intercom system, which was patched into the library’s tiny wing, was a constant nuisance. The circulation desk was relegated to the middle of a hallway, and without the luxury of air-conditioning, the building was often a sweltering 90 degrees in the dead of summer.
The children’s’ room was the hardest hit, with children’s librarian Penny Berube left with a 12- by 12-foot rug on which to hold all of her programs, including story hours and craft projects. The largest group she could handle at one time was 16 children. Summer programs had to be canceled.
“We made it work because we had to,” said Schwarz. “But we were working on the move from the first day.”
One construction delay after another became frustrating to the eager librarians, who almost could not believe it when they received word that the new building had received its occupancy permit in March.
“We have been living on top of each other for 16 years,” Schwarz said. “It is unreal. I feel like I’m sitting in the corner of a ceiling somewhere watching all of this happen.”
However, Schwarz soon found out that there was no time for sitting. As Jerry Reed once sang, they had a long way to go and a short time to get there. Deadline? Four weeks.
The temporary location shut its doors April 1, and the controlled chaos began.
“This is a staff that doesn’t know the meaning of the word can’t,” Schwarz said. “We were given four weeks and we will get it done.”
A first visit to the library’s palatial new digs may leave those who frequented the old facility speechless.
Walking through the door, one’s eye is immediately drawn to the far end of the building, to a room elevated by five steps from the lobby accentuated by a stunning floor-to-ceiling window overlooking the historic Old Yellow Meeting House.
A grand staircase leads to the second floor, its walls painted two complementary warm shades of blue, which houses the adult collection as well as an extensive array of CDs and videos. Computer terminals are set up at workstation desks, the surfaces of which are crafted from steel shavings and resin, creating a smooth feel, but an intriguing look.
Large, brightly colored chairs placed near a wall of windows that flood the room with warm light are placed around a large, red, round Ottoman that resembles an oversized Skittle.
“We are not sure what it is, but the first teenager that was in here immediately flopped down over it and started to read,” Schwarz said.
Each section of the building has its own look and feel, but it somehow all blends perfectly.
Although the main library — built in 1978 — was torn down, the original building, circa 1922, was saved and restored, making a home for large print books, local histories and historical displays.
The room, dedicated to John Katin, a 34-year library trustee who died in 2004, is a place for reflection. Time stops momentarily as you are transported away from the state-of-the-art building and back to an earlier era of Dracut history.
The jewel in this building’s crown, however, is the children’s wing, decorated in a woodland theme.
A section for little kids, with appropriately sized furniture, finally gives Berube all the space she’s ever wanted to run programs, as well as for children and their parents to sit comfortably and read or browse through books.
Carvings of squirrels and other creatures greet visitors at the end of bookshelves, a decorating detail that continues in the adult section with more elegant carvings of vines.
The far section of the room provides a sanctuary for older kids, not quite ready for the adult section.
“We want to keep the sixth-graders here, but don’t want them to feel like babies,” Berube said. “It’s nice for them to have their own space with so many tables where they can read, study or do research.”
Berube was also granted a craft room, complete with tons of storage and a working sink. “So many years we dreamed about this,” she said. “This is home; I can’t even put my feelings into words.”
The first-floor meeting room, designed to seat 100, is equipped with a handicapped-accessible podium that electronically moves up or down to accommodate a speaker’s needs. The building has also full wireless capabilities.
The library offers many surprises, including a pair of eyeglasses that belonged to Dracut legend Polly Urquhart, owner of Collinsville’s Polly’s Variety, who took to delivering newspapers with her wagon in 1980 at age 75 after her doctor told his legally blind patient to stop riding her bicycle.
“What I want most is for people to come in and not see everything the first time,” Schwarz said. “This is the community’s library and I hope everyone enjoys it as much as I know we will.”
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