Renovation of Lilly Library


Community Support Leads to Lilly Library
Expansion and Renovation 

Written by Michael Reardon for the Daily Hampshire Gazette, 2006

 NORTHAMPTON  Modernizing an historic architectural jewel like the Lilly Library can be very tricky business.


Reference Collection, 2006

The building must be updated but with sensitivity to what made the original structure unique in the first place. If not designed and constructed with great care, an historic building can be disfigured forever. When the project is done right, a new addition and renovation can seamlessly blend the old with the new in a way that enhances the structure.

The recent renovation and expansion of Lilly Library, located 19 Meadow Street in Florence, is an example of a project that has preserved the building’s historic integrity, and at the same time has transformed it into a modern and efficient library. The new project more than doubles the size of the library by adding 5300 square feet to the original 4200 square feet.

Besides updating electrical and heating systems, this is the first major renovation of the library since it opened in 1890. The new addition allows Lilly Library to easily accommodate its 30,000 annual patrons.

The primary motivation for the project was to make the Library handicapped accessible, but also to allow for more children’s programming and make more room for the Library’s collection.

Prior to the completion of the new renovation and expansion, handicapped patrons could not venture past the first floor of the Library. Lilly Library Director Martine Hargreaves saw firsthand how the expansion can make a positive difference for many patrons.


Library Director, Martine Hargreaves, 2006

“Each day for the first four days we were open, we had a different person come in in a wheelchair or with a walker,” she said. “I was very gratified to see that. Some of the people had never been to the Library. To have them come in and be able to move around the Library made it all worth it.”

Hargreaves pointed out that Gary Doucett, a member of the Library’s Building Committee, who is in a wheelchair was able to go upstairs for the first time once the new section was opened.

“I was so pleased to see him moving around the building,” she said.

The new renovation and expansion has also enhanced the Library’s services.

We’re very proud of it,” said Virginia Christenson, a Library Trustee for more than 40 years. “The new renovation has retained the flavor of the old building, but with all the modern services, such as wireless Internet and the elevator.”

Christenson was the trustee in charge of fundraising and has been credited with being a driving force behind the project for the last eight years. She was motivated to renovate the library to ensure access for all people in memory and in honor of her late husband Leon Christenson. Christenson and her Development Committee raised more than $707,000 in donations from individuals and local businesses toward the project.

“It’s a substantial amount for a small community,” Christenson said. “We had wonderful local support. I would say that 99 percent of the community was behind us. It’s very rewarding to work on a project that so many people are positive about. I really had a lot of fun, mostly because of the people I worked with and the community support.”

The project had its origins in 1998, when then-Library Director Joyce Neal began developing a long range plan.

Christenson formed the Development Committee in 2000 and a feasibility study on the project was completed. The following year a fundraising event was held at the Garden House at Look Park. In 2001, the committee started having regular meetings and formally launched the fundraising effort, called the Next Chapter Campaign, which was chaired by Florence Savings Bank President John Heaps.

The committee raised funds in a number of ways including sending out brochures and making telephone solicitations.

Besides local donors, the project was also funded by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners and the City of Northampton. The state funded 50 percent of the cost of the project, while the City and local fundraising each contributed 25 percent.

Now residents of Florence and the surrounding area can celebrate the Grand Re-Opening of this local landmark with a ceremony at Lilly Library on November 5, from 2-5 p.m.

Library Trustee Holly Hargraves will open the ceremony with a welcome. Remarks will follow from State Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, State Rep. Peter Kocot, and Mayor Mary Clare Higgins. Others speakers include Heaps, local author Elinor Lipman, Library Director Hargreaves, and Lilly Library Trustee RobertMahar.


Mahar, a retired engineer and former president of O’Connell Companies of Holyoke, served as project manager for the $2.5 million renovation and expansion of the library.

On a daily basis, Mahar supervised the contractor, subcontractor, and consulted with the principal architect, Ken Jodrie of Caolo & Bieniek Associates, Inc., Gerry Henderson, who was the project superintendent for general contractor, Western Builders, Inc. and Hargreaves.

Trustee Hargraves said dozens of volunteers are responsible for the success of the project, but singled out Christenson and Mahar for their hard work.


Virginia Christenson & Robert Mahar, 2006, Lilly Library Association Trustees

“This is a story of volunteerism, community spirit, dedication, and perseverance,” Hargraves said. “This wouldn’t have happened if Bob and Ginny hadn’t commandeered their roles.”

Mahar, who has been a Lilly Library Trustee since 1975, is pleased with the final result.

“The old building had a certain charm about it,” he said. “We managed to add a lot of things, but at the same time not lose the feeling that the old place had.”

Although it was not financially feasible to purchase the exact same materials for the new renovation that were used to construct the original building, the substitute materials match up almost perfectly. Mahar said it helped that the brickwork and granite on the original building was cleaned as part of the project.

“As we went along we realized we would have enough money to clean the brick and granite and it made a big difference,” he said.

Construction on the new renovation began in July 2005. The Library was closed for a year, but maintained a presence at the Parish Center of the Annunciation Church in Florence for fiction, some periodicals and children’s books. Most of the collection was put in storage during the renovation. Lilly reopened its doors in September of this year.

Since it first opened in 1890, Lilly Library has been a place of learning, culture, and community activities for adults and children in Florence and the surrounding area. Prior to the renovation, Lilly Library offered a variety of services, including books for adults and children, periodicals, reference materials, videos, and CDs, and Internet access.

All of these services were available in a building that is more than 100 years old.

Because of the renovation and expansion, Lilly Library can now meet the needs of current and future patrons. The project included an overhaul of the library’s mechanical infrastructure, new interior furnishings, and full compliance with the Americans for Disabilities Act. Lilly Library’s main entrance is now on the ground floor, adjacent to the parking lot, making it easier for handicapped patrons to enter and exit. The library also has a new elevator and restrooms for patrons.

The library also has a new Children’s Room, more room for the library’s collection, space for meetings and library functions, more electronic resources for library patrons, and study areas for middle and high school students.

The Children’s Room is bigger than before with comfortable seating for adults, and more room for children to move around and play in a safe manner. The program room located next to the Children’s Room will be available for programs for children and adults.

Even with the modernization, Library patrons will recognize the familiar antique oak tables, original decorative woodwork, and many artifacts throughout the building.

“A lot of people were concerned about losing the old Library,” Hargreaves said. “I shared their concern and we tried to address that. I think in the end we achieved the right blend of the old and the new. The building will serve the community well for quite awhile.”