ASHAWAY — With the necessary permits from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management in hand, construction of the Ashaway Free Library’s new community room is finally underway.
Excavation for the addition began the last week of July and quickly uncovered an unpleasant surprise.
“The contractor worked with the person who does the cement to excavate up to the old building, whereupon they discovered the foundation was all stones,” board of trustees President Fran Cohen said. “It was basically a rubble field foundation.”
The contractor, O’Donnell Development Company, reinforced the foundation so it could support both the existing building and the addition.
“You have to cut through the old foundation to connect the new space to plumbing and electricity and if you pull out one stone, they’re all going to come down, so we had to have additional forms and cement poured to shore up the old foundation so we wouldn’t lose the chimney and the building would not be damaged,” Cohen said. “It was an extra $4,200.”
The exact age of the library is unknown, because the building originally served as a one-room schoolhouse and was moved in 1907 from Church Street to its current location at Knight and High streets.
“Among the rubble, there was a rock with the carving K-13, so we’re wondering if that foundation was built in 1913. I don’t know what they were doing between 1907 and 1913. Maybe they were raising money like we are,” Cohen said.
Barring any future surprises, the work is expected to take four months. The new community room will add 700 square feet to the 2,300-square-foot space.
Designed by Westerly architects Azzinaro Larson, the community room will have its own entrance and will provide badly needed meeting space and be equipped with a projection screen, window shades and storage for folding tables and chairs.
The $250,000 target of the capital campaign has increased to more than $300,000.
“The cost, based on committed funds and expenditures, is already up to $297,000, so I would say our goal has to be about $305,000 to complete this and furnish it,” Cohen said.
The project has received a $200,000 grant from the Champlin Foundation, plus strong support from the community.
“Eighty individuals gave $30,000 and businesses gave $30,575, and the rest is foundation funding,” Cohen said.
The library currently has 1,000 members. While lending books and media will remain its core services, the library also provides three computer workstations and high-speed internet service for residents who do not have access at home.
The library will remain open during construction, and special provisions have been made for people returning books.
“There’s limited parking in the parking lot, but people can park on the street and one of our board members built a wonderful external book drop so there’s a big weatherproof book drop so people can still drop off their materials on schedule, and the door on High Street is being used while the parking lot entrance is being rebuilt, so there’s very little inconvenience to patrons,” Cohen said.
Cohen described the expansion project as a leap of faith for the small organization.
“I have to say that this is a big deal for a grass-roots group such as our board of trustees,” she said. “It takes a lot of courage to jump into something like this. You can understand why it only happens every half century. We’re very pleased with our contractor and we’re holding our breath, hoping there aren’t more surprises.”