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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

Schiappa Library's 20th anniversary

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, February 4, 2007


It was a cold January day in 1986 when I stood along Mall Drive watching the bulldozer make the first passes for construction of the Schiappa Branch Library.


The operator jumped off the machine and exclaimed that he had "hit a water line."


I told him not to worry; there was no water or gas line on the site, which was actually one of the challenges of construction.


The site did contain an underground spring, which the dozer had now exposed.


The planning and design of the library had been ongoing for some time.


The lack of water and gas service to the site had been overcome, designs were finally approved, funding was in place, and even the water detention system had been approved.


The detention system proved to be one of the more interesting challenges.  Because the site was more than one acre in size, we needed to "detain" water run-off to no more than the run-off of the undeveloped site.


The problem was that no one seemed to have guidelines for how to do that, and what we needed to do.


Finally, I assisted our engineer in counting any trees of more than 2 inches in diameter, measuring the ground cover and sloped, and holding his surveying equipment so a plan could be developed.


In the end, a swail (pond) was designed along the street that would hold the run-off to no more than 2,498 somethings per some time period.  (time has faded the specifics)


The other big issue was the foundation, everyone told us how the floors of buildings in former strip-mined areas always crack and heave when the pyrites swell with moisture.


To address those issues, the library sits on 110 concrete pylons, drilled to solid rock, which is between 4 and 14 feet deep at the site.


Construction proceeded throughout 1986.  Workers had to rescue me when I sunk into the muck and mud of the site; and I helped coil up the wire cable found from the strip mine days, but all proceeded well.


Equipment and furniture was arriving in December 1986, some staff were working onsite-placing books on shelves.


We picked Monday, February 2, 1987 as opening day, not thinking that it was also Groundhog Day.


It was to be a "soft opening," just to get the building operating, with a more elaborate celebration in warmer weather.


A few staff and I, joined by June Eiselstein from the Mary H. Weir Public Library, cut a simple ribbon at 9:00 am, and opened the doors to the public.


For the first hour, we only had a person or two, but as the Noon hour arrived, the place was packed.


The oohs and ahhs were abundant, people delighted with their new library in the "West End."


The donation of the site by John and Huberta Siciliano, given in memory of Albert and Mary A. Schiappa, had brought the library to fruition.


The new library was busy all week, to the point that we worried that the shelves would literally be empty of books by the end of the week.


Returned books were reshelved quickly to make things look "fuller," the State Regional Library sent boxes of books to use temporarily to fill the shelves.


And here we are, 20 years later, with many of us still working for the library system, from those exciting days of the 1980s.


2007 is going to bring some changes to the Schiappa Branch, as we do some interior renovations to replace the worn parts of the building, and address technologies that didn't exist in 1987.


Oh, and that little bubbling spring?  I peeked in the manhole last week, and it is still running about 2 gallons a minute into the detention system .... for 20 years now.