STONINGTON — What began with a donation of a single dime is about to enter the final stages of a $1.8 million campaign.

The Stonington Free Library — founded in 1887 to enrich the lives of the local community and build community by bringing information, ideas and people together — has launched the "Capital Campaign to Update and Fund a Library for the 21st Century."

Fortified with a construction grant from the Connecticut State Library and pledges totaling $1,475,000 from more than 80 leadership donors — including the town of Stonington — the goal is to invite "the entire community, from river to river and beyond" to "join together to help us reach our goal and make this plan a reality," said Stephanie Calhoun, the library's development coordinator.

Marc Ginsberg, of Stonington, who is serving as a co-chair of the campaign, said the entire process has been conducted "in a prudent way."

Ginsberg, who served on the library's board of trustees for many years, said a "good plan was established" from the beginning of the project, which set the campaign off on strong footing. 

"We had a thoughtful, executable, strategic plan," Ginsberg said, "a forward-looking plan."

The good news, added Ginsberg, is that "libraries are more valuable than ever."

"Libraries in general are an important community resource," he said, but the Stonington Free Library, with its prominent location, and appreciative community, is a jewel.

"It's one thing to have a building that's shiny and new," he said, but the plan in place will make sure the Stonington Free Library remains accessible and sustainable for generations to come.

Calhoun said it became apparent several years ago that the library, which sits in the heart of Wadawanuck Square, needed to make changes.

With more than 70,000 annual visits, more than 50,000 items checked out and 600 participants in the Summer Reading Program, "the capabilities of our charming but outdated facility had become increasingly stretched."

To address the challenges, Library Director Belinda de Kay along with members of the library's board of trustees worked together to develop a comprehensive strategic plan to "guide the necessary work of expanding the library's potential."

In an interview last year, de Kay said that the public was involved in the planning process from the very beginning. She said the library staff solicited opinions from patrons of the library and Stonington residents.

The exercise in "self-assessment and community engagement," she said, was enlightening, and gave library leaders a blueprint for how to most effectively serve the people of Stonington.

Based on the results of a communitywide survey, the plan incorporates three linked initiatives, Calhoun said: increasing floor space and improving accessibility, refurbishing and upgrading the interior, and building financial sustainability.

Last November, a ceremonial groundbreaking — attended by dozens of onlookers — took place for the new addition when library board Co-Presidents Allegra Griffiths and Denise Easton plunged a shovel into the ground — the first step in making the building fully accessible and up to date in its technology. The addition includes a new ramp, a new entrance, a new elevator and new restrooms, all in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Next comes the interior renovation of the building, or Phase 2 of the project.

"For the next few months there will be a lot of activity inside the library," Calhoun said.

The renovation of the building's interior is designed for "flexibility and user comfort," Calhoun said, noting that "easily configured furnishings and seating will complement the open areas ... mobile shelving will provide functional meeting areas for individuals and groups ... and enhanced electrical infrastructure and fiber-based broadband will give users up-to-date technology that connects the library’s past, present and future."

The goal, said Calhoun, was to raise enough money to provide increased access to all library services, which means improved physical access to all areas of the library, regardless of disabilities, infrastructure upgrades and an internal refurbishment to "refresh, redesign and re-equip our library to keep up with evolving user needs."

As far as financial sustainability, Calhoun said that the "successful completion of the capital campaign will add to our endowment, safeguarding the library’s future financial stability while also generating increased current income to fund enhanced programs, services and operating hours for an ever expanding and diverse group of users."

As for the 10 cents that started the library, it all began in 1887, according to author Martha Todd Hill. It was in 1887, Hill writes in her 1891 "Story of the Stonington Free Library," when "the fortunes of The Ladies Book Club were at a low ebb."

The club invited a speaker to come and discuss a fundraising idea that had taken root in New Haven to raise money for a local charity. After the talk, one local lady turned to another guest and "requested him to give her 10 cents."

Each lady then asked two others "and the dimes came in."

"In this way 330 dimes, representing as many givers, were gathered," Hill wrote. "With the $33 dollars thus collected thirty-eight books were bought."

"That dime began the Stonington Free Library," according to library history.

"Our story began with the donation of just a single dime," Calhoun writes in the campaign appeal. "Please help us write the next chapter."

It'll be a story with a happy ending Ginsburg predicted.

For more information about ways to give, visit stoningtonfreelibrary.org/capital-campaign-2020.

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