When a group of local women in Highland established a community reading room in 1915, their goals for it were probably pretty modest. Chartered as the Highland Free Library by the end of the same year, it must have felt like quite an accomplishment just to get it up and running. Women didn’t even have the vote yet at that time, and the library would have been one of the few places in town — if not the only — where women could exercise their intellect and be taken seriously alongside their male brethren. It’s satisfying to think of the women perusing the stacks they’d made available and recommending a stimulating book to their friends.
Now, a century later, the Highland Public Library they put into motion will celebrate its 100th anniversary, still going strong and looking forward to establishing themselves in a new permanent home come springtime, when ground will be broken at 7 Elting Place for the new library voters approved last March.
And 100 years deserves a party, so the Highland Public Library will celebrate its centennial year with a semi-formal event at Stonehedge Restaurant in West Park this Saturday, November 21 from 7-10 p.m. Unlimited beer, wine, soda, coffee or tea, hors d’oeuvres and birthday cake are included in the $45 ticket price ($80 per couple). Tickets are available at the library on 30 Church Street. Funds raised at the event will go toward offsetting the cost of the new library construction.
While voters approved a bond of up to $4.8 million for the project, the Highland Public Library has done various fundraisers over the last year to reduce that amount and will continue to do more, says library director Julie Kelsall-Dempsey. The coffers were recently enriched considerably to the tune of $450,000 to put toward construction from two grants secured by state Senator George Amedore ($200,000) and state Assemblyman Frank Skartados ($250,000) through a state and municipal grant program that provides monies to help localities with capital projects and infrastructure improvements. “It’s fantastic to get their support,” says Kelsall-Dempsey, “and to receive such a large sum. It’s incredible, really. The funds will reduce the bond and ensure the new building offers the community everything they requested during our public forums; a modern, spacious building with a community meeting room and the newest technology.”
The deed to the property at 7 Elting Place where the new library will be built was formally transferred from St. Augustine’s parish to the Highland Public Library in October. With the land secured, the paperwork for construction was submitted to the State Education Department’s Division of Library Development for review. The process for approval usually takes six to eight months, says Kelsall-Dempsey. In the meantime, preparatory work is being done behind the scenes so that when the way is clear, construction can begin in late spring or early summer. The architectural firm of Butler Rowland Mays Architects LLP are meeting with the utility companies and an IT consultant has been lined up along with the Barone Construction Group to serve as construction management once the work begins. Bids to do the work will be solicited once the state Education Department approval comes through.
Until then, it’s time to celebrate that centennial. Although the semi-formal gala will raise funding, it’s really about throwing a party to celebrate 100 years of the library being in existence, says Kelsall-Dempsey. “It’s just a chance for everyone to come and mingle. We’ll have the latest plans available to see and people can ask us questions, if they like, but it’s really just an opportunity to celebrate.”
And surely those women back in 1915, who saw their library through its difficult early years bouncing around a variety of locations in town, from spare rooms to a residence to an office and a store, would approve.
Tickets to the gala are available at 30 Church Street during library hours, Monday and Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday and Thursday 1-8 p.m., Wednesday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., or call (845) 691-2275.