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Library readies for renovation

$25M project to start Monday

YOUNGSTOWN — When the Main Library in Youngstown was built more than a century ago, its planners did not know the world would be heading into a pandemic.

On Friday, Aimee Fifarek, executive director of the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County, spoke to viewers via livestream during a groundbreaking because of COVID-19. She was joined by board members, the design team and Mayor Jamael Tito Brown.

History has a tendency to repeat itself, she said, drawing back to the opening of the library 110 years ago.

“The Reuben McMillan Free Library opened its doors to the public in 1910. Just a decade later our community, like the rest of the world, was recovering from a different pandemic. In time, everyone would shed their masks and enter the celebration of survival that has since become known as the Roaring Twenties,” she said.

Cost for the Main Library renovation is about $25 million, with completion set in early 2022.

Funds have been set aside for years, which has allowed for the project to move forward after about a year of planning.

First, the parking lot will be revamped with work officially beginning Monday, and building renovations will start in the fall.

Planning and design for the renovation already was underway when the COVID-19 pandemic established itself, Fifarek said.

“This has been a promise that the library was going to keep for a very long time,” she explained. “We were much too far along to stop at that point.”

While the virus situation is dire, Fifarek said people will pull through, and the library will be there to help.

“The library is always trying to figure out how to be more flexible” to offer services, she noted.

A phasing plan by the construction team, which includes Albert M. Higley Co. of Cleveland and Dawn Inc. of Warren, will allow patrons to utilize the library by keeping half the building open.

A children’s space will be added to the main floor of the library during a first phase, while during a second phase an addition will be made.

The first phase will consist of working on the rest of the first floor of the existing building, Fifarek said.

During construction, crews will uncover a skylight that was covered in the 1950s, Fifarek noted.

Workforce and business support will be on the second floor, with public computers and small meeting rooms.

Kicking off the event Friday was Dr. David Ritchie, president of the library’s board.

“The improvements we are making here will serve our community for decades to come,” he said.

Mayor Jamael Tito Brown spoke, noting that the upcoming construction is in tune with other ongoing improvements projects in the downtown area, specifically due to Youngstown State University.

Located at 305 Wick Ave., the Main Library, an Andrew Carnegie library, opened in 1910.

Since then, it has had two renovations: one in 1954 that removed front stairs and period lamp posts, and another that included a large addition and relocated the entrance from Wick Avenue to the side off the parking lot.

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