by Sue Ann Rybak
Lovett Memorial Library, 6945 Germantown Ave. in Mt. Airy, will celebrate its estimated $9 million renovation and expansion project with a grand reopening on Dec. 16, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The multi-million-dollar project was part of the Free Library of Philadelphia’s “Building Inspiration: 21st Century Libraries Initiative,” a pilot program whose goal is to reshape neighborhood libraries in the city to meet the changing needs of its patrons.
Lovett was one of four libraries selected to participate in the project financed by a $25-million grant from the William Penn Foundation, the largest private gift ever received by the Free Library, as well as a number of private individuals, institutional funders and the City of Philadelphia. The other three libraries: Logan Library, Lillian Marrero Library, and Tacony Library reopened earlier this year.
James Keller, an architect at J R Keller and co-author of “Designing Space for Children and Teens in Libraries and Public Spaces,” said the new design includes a new addition for children, expanded space for teens and adults in the 1961 structure, a new quiet room in the 1891 rounded stone structure, and an enhanced meeting room in the original 1887 library structure.
“The reimagined Lovett Library achieves several aspirational design goals,” said Keller, lead architect for each of the four branches. “The redesigned library is significantly expanded to better welcome its vibrant community, is now universally accessible, and includes greater energy efficiency with new building systems, improved thermal envelope, and LED lighting throughout.”
Siobhan A. Reardon, president and director of the Free Library, said the library is “overjoyed to welcome the devoted Mt. Airy community home to their revitalized Lovett Memorial Library.”
“This location is one of the most-used libraries in our system, and we are grateful to the individuals, families, and institutions whose generosity have helped bring this community the 21st-century library it so deserves,” she added. “New spaces and services for adults, teens, children, and families will give the whole Lovett community a library to love and be proud of.”
In addition to the “Building Inspiration” initiative, Jennifer Donsky, a spokeswoman for the Free Library, said Lovett Memorial Library and the adjoining park were funded in part by a $1.25 million grant from the “Reimagining the Civic Commons Initiative.” The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the William Penn Foundation formed a partnership in 2014 to reimagine civic commons.
“The underlying premise is that parks, libraries and other “civic assets” can be better leveraged to promote greater social and economic integration, retain residents, and foster community and economic development,” she said. “In collaboration with Mt. Airy USA – which helps stimulate responsive development in the area – the library will be integrated into the adjacent park which will include a reading area and space for outdoor programming.”
Bradley Maule, a spokesman for Mt. Airy USA, said his organization has partnered with the Free Library and the Fairmount Park Conservancy “to reimagine Lovett’s one-acre park space, with a goal of promoting intergenerational interaction and an emphasis on fun and education.”
Hanae Mason, community programs manager at Mt. Airy USA, said residents will have an opportunity to see preliminary designs of four focus areas of the park, including Germantown Avenue Plaza, the reading circle, the porch and Sedgwick Plaza. She said the nonprofit is currently seeking input from the community regarding public programs, art installations, furniture and landscape designs.
“We want to find out what resonates with residents,” she said. “Once Lovett Library reopens, we’ll know the outdoor space better.”
Maule said Moonlight Movies will definitely return to Lovett Park next summer.
“What else would you like to see,” he said. “There are no wrong answers, but there are four simple requirements – that what you envision is free and open to the public, is accessible to diverse and intergenerational audiences, provides opportunities for interaction, enrichment and engagement, and positively reflects the spirit of Mt. Airy.”
David T. Moore, president of Friends of Lovett, said, “We have noticed a rising tide of excitement as the neighborhood community eagerly awaits the return of its free library. December 16 will both initiate a fresh chapter of 21st century service from this 19th century Mt. Airy institution and re-dedicate the long-defaced World War I monument Lovett erected on its grounds in 1924.”
Mt. Airy resident Ken Weinstein, who is also a local business owner, real estate developer and parent, said he was excited when the revitalization of the library was first announced but “had no idea how aesthetically pleasing it would be.”
“Every great community needs a great library, and now we have one,” said Weinstein, founder of the Trolley Car Teachers’ Fund that gives away $25,000 a year in grants to local public-school teachers. “Lovett will quickly become a focal point of our Mt. Airy community and will have a positive impact on our families for many years.”
Elayne Bender, executive director of East Mount Airy Neighbors (EMAN), said the reopening of the library “is generating lots of excitement, not just in East Mt. Airy, but throughout the wider community.”
“The renovations are amazing, and the space is modern and inviting,” she said. “With the improvements and additions that have been made, Lovett will be so much more than ‘just’ a library; it’ll truly be a multi-faceted learning center and community hub. The improved physical space will draw lots of people in, and we are happy that everything will be handicap-accessible and ADA compliant.
“As icing on the cake, we’re fortunate to also have an excellent staff, particularly our wonderful branch manager, librarian Marsha Stender, and our energetic new community organizer, Fred Ginyard, both of whom have been doing community outreach while the Library has been closed.”
To learn more about the Building Inspiration Initiative, visit freelibrary.org/21stcenturylibraries. Go to http://bit.ly/lovettRFP to submit ideas for Lovett Park.