By Julia Purdy
RUTLAND—After months of closure for repairs and upgrades, the Nella Grimm Fox Room at the Rutland Free Library reopened Thursday, April 19, with speeches, door prizes and a 50/50 raffle, canapés, a champagne toast, and over 200 patrons, staff and well-wishers in attendance. The reopening is another come-back story for Rutland, one more step toward what Rutland wants to be.
The space, an elegant venue for free lectures and events, had suffered ceiling failure in September 2017, forcing a winter’s worth of events to be rescheduled or relocated.
Joan Gamble, a library trustee, remembered when parts of the ceiling first fell down: “When it first happened it was horrifying,” she told the Mountain Times, because traces of asbestos were discovered in the old tile adhesive, requiring immediate remediation. Total removal, entailing a potential environmental hazard, would have cost $35,000. “We don’t have that kind of money,” she said. “It’s also tricky because the city owns the building – it’s like, ‘Who’s responsible?’ It was really quite a process to go through the options.”
The trustees sought technical assistance from local organizations with historic renovation expertise, including NeighborWorks, Housing Trust of Rutland County and NBF Architects, for solutions. Ultimately, an acceptable alternative was found, holding the remaining tiles in place with strapping and install new ceiling tiles over them. In the process, the decades-old hanging light fixtures were replaced as well.
Library Director Randal Smathers said the library was spending about $200 per month just to light the space. Then there was the “old, old carpet” with only another couple of years of life left in it. It made sense to replace the carpet, which Friends of the Library paid for out of their monthly book sales revenues. “When you get into an old building there’s always bits and pieces,” Smathers said.
Just how old is the building? According to Jake Sherman, president of the Rutland Historical Society, it’s 160 years old this year. Sherman recounted “the library’s beginnings and some of the people who made it happen” at the gala, Thursday. The library building was designed as a courthouse and post office in the Italianate style by noted architect Ammi B. Young, she said. The building is now the centerpiece of the Courthouse National Register Historic District.
Civic-spirited women led the charge to establish the Rutland Free Library. Sherman described how 63 local women formed a library association in 1886 to raise money, led by Rutland poet Julia Dorr. Forced to move from place to place in the city, the library collection found its final home in its present location, thanks to a bond issue that enabled the renovation of the old Ammi Young building, in 1935.
Nella Grimm Fox was a later local philanthropist and patron of the arts who ran the G.H. Grimm Co. on Forest Street that made maple sugaring equipment until 1951. In 1969 she left $2 million in trust for three institutions: the hospital, the Congregational Church and the library, “from which we continue to reap the interest,” Sherman said. Fox also donated antique rugs and furnishings, a grand piano and an English hall clock to the room.
On Thursday, the renovated hall glowed with festive white and gold balloons, a fresh coat of paint, new carpeting, freshly cleaned drapes and LED ceiling light fixtures that brought out the room’s classical trim and wall decorations.
Addressing the gala crowd, Randal Smathers said, “We feel we’re on a sustainable path, but the reason it’s sustainable is because of people like you that come out to events like this, that write the checks, that come every day and use us.”
He listed all the services offered by the library, now enhanced digitally and online, and even a snowshoe lending program to encourage people to get outdoors inexpensively in the winter. But, he said, pointing to framed photo portraits of four library patrons, “The library is not the building. The library is not books. What the library is, is stories and the people that tell the stories.”
Mayor David Allaire, who opened the ceremonies, credited the city’s people and the taxpayers of the surrounding communities for their support of the library over the years. He conducted the drawings for door prizes and the raffle and then turned the event over to William Notte, chair of the Board of Alderman, who introduced the toast, saying, “A good toast talks about where you’ve been and where you want to go.” For him personally, he said the Fox Room is “a room full of memories” and “a major artery” in “the lifeblood of this community [that] flows through this library… Here’s to the love and dedication to keep this room and this library going for many, many rooms to come. To the Fox Room.”
Photo By Jason Mikula
Over 200 people turned out for the reopening of the Fox Room at the Rutland Free Library.