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Renovations, donations sought at Braddock Carnegie Library |

Renovations, donations sought at Braddock Carnegie Library

Brad Bumsted
| Sunday, January 31, 2016 11:00 p.m
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Mary Carey, culture facilitator at the Braddock Carnegie Library, talks about the future plans for the library, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
The first Carnegie library in the U.S., built in 1889, the Braddock Carnegie Library, is making a big fundraising push. The library is shown here on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Calise Cowans, 8, of North Versailles tries on one of the Giant Puppets created by local artists Cheryl Capezzuti at a fundraising event at Braddock Carnegie Library, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Local artist, Alicia Diaz-Taylor, 31, of Millvale tries on one of the Giant Puppets created by local artist Cheryl Capezzuti at a fundraising event at Braddock Carnegie Library, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016. Taylor helped in the construction of many of the of the puppets.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Dancers entertain the crowd, dancing in the Giant Puppets created by local artist Cheryl Capezzuti at a fundraising event at Braddock Carnegie Library, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Serayah Leech, 9, of Plum hangs out in front of the Braddock Carnegie Library, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016.

Braddock Carnegie Library officials are developing a master plan and raising money to renovate and repair the building that houses the nation’s first Carnegie Library.

Executive Director Vicki Vargo said upgrades are needed throughout the facility, including in the music hall, where a new floor and roomier seats are to be installed.

Though a study is under way, Vargo said, it hasn’t been determined when any work might take place or how much a project might cost.

The Eden Hall Foundation, based Downtown, is funding the study. Foundation Executive Director Sylvia Fields wouldn’t disclose the amount of the grant but said it’s commendable that library officials are trying to restore the building to its former glory.

Industrialist Andrew Carnegie dedicated the eclectic medieval-style library on March 30, 1889. Along with a library, the building had a bathhouse and other amenities, and an 1893 addition doubled its size and added a 964-seat music hall, gym, pool and two duckpin bowling lanes.

The library closed in 1974 because repairs were needed and funds were lacking, but a group of residents saved it from demolition in the late 1970s. A children’s library opened in 1983, other services were added later, and some restoration work was done in the 1990s.

Vargo said the once ornate, second floor music hall and other areas of the building haven’t been used because they are in poor condition. Once restored, she said, they can be made available for programs, rentals and meetings.

Heating system upgrades, air conditioning and handicap accessibility are among improvements being considered for the 45,000-square-foot building.

“We listen to our patrons for what they need and what they want,” Vargo said. “Taking this, we develop new programs.”

Vargo said the library recorded 22,572 visits and 7,186 patrons in its 2014 report to the state. The 2016 budget totals $588,000.

The library’s ongoing Billion Pennies Project was organized to raise that amount, which equates to $10 million. Of that, $5 million would be kept in reserve for operations, and the rest would go to renovations. The current balance is $26,106, Vargo said.

Library board member John Hempel has made picture frames out of old floorboards from the building that have contributed more than $3,000 toward the fund.

And a group of former and current Braddock area residents who meet on a social media site have organized a dinner-dance in April.

Organizer Nunzio Filippino expects about $10,000 to be raised for the library, in what he hopes will be the first of regular events.

Hempel and Filippino said they are happy to do their part.

“My involvement is to try to help make Braddock a better place,” said Hempel, of Braddock Hills.

Filippino, a lifelong Braddock resident, said he has fond memories of visiting the library as a child.

Karen Kadilak is a Tribune-Review freelance writer.

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