ASHAWAY — Completed at the end of March, the new community room at the Ashaway Free Library is now open. 

Construction began last June and Fran Cohen, chairwoman of the library's board of trustees, explained the project was not without a few hitches.

“We raced to start and then sat and waited,” she said. “The funds were there. It was a matter of permits from from various town and state agencies, and rainy fall weather. We had to join three rooflines, and that required opening up the roof a lot and in the fall, we didn’t have spring rains, we had torrential rains. They needed four rain-free days and we didn’t get them until the end of November.”

Designed by Westerly architects Azzinaro Larson, the community room has its own entrance and will provide badly needed meeting space, adding 700 square feet to the 2,300 square-foot building.

A sink and counter have been installed, and the room will eventually be equipped with a projection screen, window shades and storage for folding tables and chairs. Hope Valley artisan Kevin Tavares, of American Revolution Design, has offered to build a custom window seat.

“We’re still in the process of figuring out the furnishings,” Cohen said. “We want some comfortable chairs in here, like reading chairs.” 

Ashaway Library Director Heather Field’s office is near the entrance to the new room.

“Because my window is right there, I get to see every single person who walks in for the first time since we opened the room,” she said. “It’s so fun to watch people chilling out in here, reading. People have been doing that already.”

Field said she and and the three other librarians were looking forward to seeing the room fully-equipped.

“I’m really ready for it to be doing its thing, to have it be up and running in all of the ways that we want to use it,” she said. 

Cohen and Field sat in the new room on a recent afternoon, reminiscing about the effort it had taken to bring the project to fruition.

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.

The building’s age was apparent shortly after construction of the addition had begun. It was discovered that the foundation of the library building consisted of rubble, and the contractor, O'Donnell Development Co., ended up having to reinforce it so it could support both the existing building and the addition. The extra work added $4,200 to the project cost.

Cohen said there were a couple of other unwelcome discoveries.

“We had to replace the fuel oil tank, we had to move the existing air conditioning units,” she said.

Then there was the issue of frozen pipes, the result of the building being open during the cold weather. Field thawed them with a hair dryer.

Still, Cohen and Field agreed that the project had been completed without any major issues, and most importantly, the library had remained open throughout.

“The contractor and all the local subcontractors were very good, very obliging,” Cohen said. “They did the noisiest messiest work when the library was closed. The library’s service continued uninterrupted. We kept all our hours during construction.

“That’s the best part, because we never had to close,” Field added.

Cohen, who spearheaded the fundraising campaign for the project, said it was still several thousand dollars short of the objective.   

“We raised $304,000, which seemed like a good cushion, and it looks like the total cost is about $310,000,” she said.

Major donors to the campaign included the Champlin Foundation, the Ida Ballou Littlefield Memorial Trust, the Kimball Foundation and the Ocean State Charities Trust. The library also received contributions from many individual donors.

The entrance to the addition has a recently-installed modern wheelchair ramp and a small garden, which Cohen is planting herself in memory of the late Margaret “Peggy” Roever, a librarian who died in March, 2018.

“I just ordered a plaque for the garden that says ‘Peggy’s garden,'” Cohen said. 

Judie Freeman, vice chairwoman of the board of trustees, said Cohen had been deeply involved in every aspect of the community room project.

“When something needs to be done, Fran will get it done,” she said. “From applying treads to the basement stairs, to planting shrubs in the landscape, hauling trash to the landfill, or repainting the newly done accent wall in the community room, she has been hands on in her approach to overseeing her beloved Ashaway Free Library.”

The opening party will take place on May 18, rain or shone. The library will also be hosting book, bake and plant sales which begin at 9 a.m.

“At noon, we’re just going to have an open house in here,” Cohen said. “We’re going to invite everyone who made a donation, the heads of the foundations who contributed and everyone is welcome. We will have some music, and it’s just going to be informal.”

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