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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.

What was found during Library Construction?

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, March 11, 2018

I am being asked by many people if we have found anything interesting in the Main Library renovation and construction project --- and I sorry to report that, so far, “no.”


I assume that people are thinking that construction work around a 117 year old building might uncover something historical; but unfortunately the only item found was a nickel tucked in the corner of the flooring that was only 5 years old.


The soil being moved behind the building is not “virgin soil” since two buildings have been there, and the original Carnegie Building had 3 ft. of soil brought to the site to raise the front and rear yards.


It is more likely that we will find some historical items in the lower level of the Carnegie Building as renovation takes place on that level.


At the same time, renovations took place on that level in 1930, 1941, 1952, as well as various renovations since that time, so the chances of finding something are limited.


All of the “drop ceilings” on the lower level will be removed for the renovation to allow the replacement of plumbing, heating, and electrical services; in addition to changing the lighting to LED.


That process may reveal something unknown.  The original 1902 steam pipes that feed the radiators will remain as we are using that system to continue to heat the Carnegie Building.


One thing that we were curious was the reveal of the back wall of the Carnegie Building since that has been covered since 1948 by the garages and since 1963 by the Annex.


That wall will be cleaned and repaired as it will be revealed by a courtyard area, and will also become the interior wall between the old and new buildings.


Overall, the wall was in better shape than expected, particularly the large stones of the foundation level which will be visible from the new interior stairway.


There is only one rectangular spot on the brick wall where the janitors mop sink was located, and someone about 1963 thought it appropriate to paint that wall.


Some former windows were bricked in during a 1952 renovation, and others were filled with glass blocks.


Regardless, the shallow “bump-out” provides a wonderful connection point between the old and the new buildings.


Why is that “bump-out” there?  When the Carnegie grant was awarded in 1899, the Steubenville committee assumed it would be funded for an amount similar to those received by the Pittsburgh area libraries which included auditoriums, bowling alleys, shower rooms, and large public spaces.


It turned out that the larger grants were “only” for those Pittsburgh area Carnegie Libraries, and the Steubenville project was to receive $ 62,000.


So, the west wing of the proposed building was eliminated from the plans leaving the shallow “bump-out” which is being used 117 years later for its intended purpose.


Another thing that was undertaken on the lower level was the removal of the floor tile due to a small asbestos content.


The contractor reported that the former Children’s Room tile, buried under later carpet, was indeed the original 1902 tile --- a dark forest green tile that was disintegrating rapidly.


Other lower level rooms had 1930 red and white checkerboard tile, covered by blue 1960s tile, covered by commercial carpeting.


All of the floors are clean to the concrete and wood surface ready to start over with new flooring.


Woodwork will be recycled where possible, or tucked away in the attic for a future renovation project.


What is old will be new again for future generations to enjoy.