The Fulton Public Library is busier than ever and is on the verge of substantial improvements to its aging home.
The library is more than halfway to its goal of raising $204,500 to build its first-ever elevator for the four-story building. The money will also begin the job of fixing up the bottom floor of the library, a place that’s been off-limits for the public for decades.
“We’re very hopeful we can do this,” said Marian Stanton, who heads the library’s board. So far, the library’s received $70,000 from a state fund for library construction, $22,000 in public fundraising and $50,000 in a planned member item from State Senator Darrel Aubertine, who has helped the library in the past. The library has also applied for federal stimulus funds.
The elevator is an important addition to the library. The library’s high ceilings mean long flights of stairs. There is only one set of bathrooms, located one floor below street level in the children’s book area. The elevator, which will be big enough for 3 people or a person in a wheelchair and one other person, will allow library patrons to get to the restrooms.
Stanton said that good figures are hard to come by, but census data shows that about one in five people say they have some kind of disability. “Being able to welcome everybody to our library is significant,” she said.
The library’s use is rising sharply. In 2008, people checked out 65,442 items — up 5.5% from the year before and rising steadily most years. The library is also a “net lender” to the interlibrary loan system, a system that allows anyone living within the North Country Library System service area can check out any book in any member library.
The elevator will be a huge project, but there’s one more Stanton and the library board would like to tackle: turning the library’s basement into public space.
Walk down a steep set of wooden steps that begin in the staff room on the Children’s Room floor, and you’ll end up in a damp, windowless basement lit by a couple of hanging light bulbs. In one room lies the library’s infrastructure pumps. The other room is a large and fascinating space.
A third of the space is taken up by rock. The rock stretches to the basement ceiling. It is part of the foundation on which the library was built. There is a small trench dug into the dirt floor. The trench carries water away from the two springs that run out of the rock outcroppings. The rest of the room is wide open.
You might see a dank basement, but Stanton sees a fully renovated space that includes a meeting room, sealed off from the running water but visible through windows.
“That’s a whole new level of offering to the community that’s very important,” she said. Community groups could use the space, particularly those needing some level of privacy.
The state library construction grant will begin the work — fixing up the basement floor. The rest will come from donations.
To help, send a check to the Fulton Public Library Elevator Fund, 160 S. 1st St., Fulton, NY 13069.