New library to open soon

It’s been a long time coming, but the new Kennett Library is expected to open in late June, with a grand opening following in August. Ground was broken for the new building in August of 2021 and February of this year was the anticipated opening. But the controversy over a new library goes back two decades.

Mary Hutchins, the development director for the library said “There have been iterations of building a library for the last 20 to 25 years. The initiative for this library started in 2016. The planning for this building started in 2018 and the fundraising began in 2019.”

The specifics of the building at the corner of Willow and E. State streets are simple. It’s a two-story structure with 33,000 square feet. But for Hutchins and Amanda Murphy, the library's director of marketing and communications, it’s much more than a new building, it’s even more than just a library. It’s a new concept in libraries. And it’s not just the Kennett Library anymore. The formal name is the Kennett Library & Resource Center.

Large thick windows let the light in but keep most of the street noise outside. It's light and airy, with lots of those large windows. It doesn't have the traditional dark, staid, and heavy feel usually associated with libraries of the past. According to Hutchins, the stacks and bookshelves will be low so there’s not a feeling of being closed in.

“It has such a great feel to it,” she said. “It has a nice flow, the air, the light, the stone. It’s very warm and welcoming. One of the goals of this building is to bring the outside in. You can see lots of light. It’s a building that’s full of light.”

The auditorium has 108 permanent seats and has room for two wheelchairs. The entire building is ADA compliant.

Murphy added, “We’re all about changing the narrative about libraries.”

As a resource center, there will be two maker spaces, one for adults and teens and the other for young kids. The adult and teen maker space will have printers, including 3-D printers, vinyl printers and cutters, as well as engraving machines. Murphy called it an adult creative space, and Hutchins said students at West Chester University will teach people how to use the maker space for designs.

The auditorium has 108 permanent seats, but there’s also room there for two wheelchairs, bringing the number of seats to 110. There are 15 meeting rooms and four tutor rooms. Students can be tutored in various subjects, people can get help in earning GEDs, and immigrants can get help in studying for citizenship and learning English.

The entire building will be fully ADA compliant, Hutchins said.

“The sidewalk will come straight down so anyone coming from uptown in a wheelchair or a walker can come right in and right on grade. There are no steps to get in.”

She added that the vestibule in the main entrance will provide visitors with an opportunity to decompress from the outside world.

“It was created to bring people in, let them calm down. There’s going to be a life-sized sculpture by Clayton Bright of a cellist that will be able to play music. So, you’ll be able to come in off the street, take a deep breath, and then enjoy the rest of the building.”

All the rooms can be used by the public, even by those without library cards. There’s also a terrace facing E. State Street where people can have gatherings. Hutchins said it’s the Melton Terrace, named after the late architect Dennis Melton, who had been the architect of record for the library project.

“When he suddenly died it was a huge loss to our community, so we’re honoring him with the Melton Terrace,” Hutchins said.

She went on to say “We want the community to come out and use it. Everything in this building, every room, the terrace, and the auditorium is to be used by the community.”

There will also be a laptop vending machine where members can use their library card with a PIN to use a library laptop computer. Hutchins said people can swipe the card and a laptop will come out of the vending machine. People can then do their work in any room at the library and, when done, they can save the work to the Cloud, put the laptop back in the vending machine, then re-swipe their card, and the work is cleaned from the laptop, so nothing is left on it for others to see. And the vending machine recharges the laptop for the next person.

And while the old library had Internet access, the new one will also have WIFI extending into the parking lot so people can access the web from outside even when the library is closed, Hutchins said.

The future children’s checkout desk.

Murphy added that access will be free and accessible to the public.

Murphy also refers to the new library as a “third place,” being a place where people can read or work in a space that’s neither home nor the office, but a simple place to just exist.

In short, the new Kennett Library, once finished and open, will be more than just a library, it will be a community gathering space, something Hutchins said is needed in the community.

“We are really pleased with the way it turned out,” Hutchins said. “It’s a dream come true for a lot of us.”

Murphy has been with the library since 2020, so she missed the earlier controversy, a fact for which she said she’s grateful. But seeing the new building come into shape even while it’s still being worked on is exciting for her.

“I am absolutely blown away. Growing up, libraries were always important to me, but it was never on my radar that they were more than a place where I could check out books. My tenure here has been completely eye-opening and yet, it kind of makes sense that all of this would be in a library and I’m now on a mission to spread the word that we are the ultimate third space.”

During the groundbreaking ceremony in 2021, Kennett Square Mayor Matt Fetick said, “When we look at healthy communities, communities that thrive, there’s no doubt in my mind that when we put our energy and efforts behind this library and resource center, that we’re going to make a huge impact on our community.”

The estimated cost was $20 million but that’s risen slightly to $22.7 million. Hutchins said they’ve raised $19.36 million, so they still need $2.7 million, but she’s optimistic.

The library serves Kennett Square, Kennett, West Marlborough townships, Newlin, Pocopson, and Pennsbury townships. The grand opening is scheduled for Aug. 27.

About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.



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