Pa. grant to grow Sharpsburg Community Library's services

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Kathy Amrhein is not a teenager, but she jumped up and down like one when she heard that news that the Sharpsburg Community Library had won a large state grant.

For the manager of the much loved, much used, and sorely undersized library, the grant represents the promise of a much anticipated expansion that would more than double its square footage.

"It's something we want very much," she said.

Library officials learned in mid-February of the $349,701 grant from the state Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund.

"My coworker and I were jumping up and down like teenagers," Ms. Amrhein said of the Valentine's Day news.

A branch of the Cooper-Siegel Community Library, based in Fox Chapel, the Sharpsburg library in the community's downtown business district is as small as it is busy.

"We really need more space," Ms. Amrhein said.

At about 1,300 square feet of space, a planned expansion would knock out some walls to create a new space of more than 3,000 square feet.

"It's a sweet little spot in a gem of a location on Main Street, handicapped-accessible, right in the center of town and with a bus stop. But, it is tiny," said Stephanie Flom, executive director of the Cooper-Siegel library.

She said Ms. Amrhein and her staff of two (a circulation clerk and a page who puts away books) have "made the best of it" but patrons of all ages are coming and going with little opportunity for quiet and even less space for resources.

"It's a real community hub, and we love that, but we can't do what we want to do with our limited space," Ms. Flom said.

Indeed, added Ms. Amrhein.

"We have so many requests for community programs but there's just no space. I have a stack of donated books that I'd love to put on the shelves, but I have to pick and choose. I don't even have a place where I can have this conversation without disturbing the people around me," she said, referring to a tutor from a local literacy council who was working at a nearby table with a student.

Founded in 1997 in the old Sharpsburg High School, the library was forced to find a new home after the building was sold.

Following a brief stay in a "bookmobile," the library opened in its current location in January 2009.

Unlike its former home, which was immensely popular despite its somewhat difficult location on the top floor in a building with no elevator, the new location was much more accessible and visible, being located on a first floor in a former Main Street restaurant. It has been well used since it opened with youngsters attending story times, adults using computers for job hunts, teens stopping after school.

Ms. Amrhein said in 2011, there were more than 13,953 visits to the library, a figure that swelled to 17,398 visits in 2012. Computer use is up as well: from more than 3,000 computer hours in 2011 to 3,435 hours in 2012.

A community garden with 30 separate plots -- all filled and with a waiting list -- is a major attraction, too.

An outdoor patio was constructed last year, thanks to a $90,000 county grant that also paid for architectural plans for an expanded building.

"We did a two-fer and it was lucky because we had the architectural drawings in hand when it was announced that there would be another round of [state] funding we could seek," Ms. Flom recalled.

In all, the library has about $600,000 on hand for the project and are short by about $200,000 -- $100,000 for construction and $100,000 for furnishings. Anyone interested in making a contribution can contact her at 412-828-9520, ext. 216.

She said naming opportunities are available. "We've had angels before!" she laughed.

Ms. Flom said the design by Arthur Lubetz of Front Studio is "colorful and fun" and won't be missed by any passers-by. The expansion will spare the community gardens and not reduce any spaces in the parking lot.

When complete, a program room will be available, a children's room will be created, and the library collection of materials will be expanded.

If all goes well, construction will begin by year-end and take less than six months, with few shut-downs.

"We're hoping to stage it so that there's a minimal amount of time we'll have to be closed," Ms. Flom said.

The building is owned by the borough, which helps maintain the structure and chips in $20,000 in operating revenues annually.

"The borough has been a fantastic partner," Ms. Flom said. She also praised state Sen. Jim Ferlo for his help in securing the grant funding.

"It'll be so nice to not have to constantly be weeding my fiction and nonfiction!" Ms. Amrhein said. She expects her resources to increase from about 11,000 in the collection to about 30,000 items.

The library is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Monday; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday; 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday; and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. It's address is 1212 Main St.


Karen Kane: or 724-772-9180. First Published March 7, 2013 11:00 AM


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