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Turning a page: Historic Harpswell library now a contemporary 'community center'

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Turning a page: Historic Harpswell library now a contemporary 'community center'

HARPSWELL — This weekend, supporters of the Orr's Island Library will celebrate the 108-year-old building's transformation into a forward-looking community center.

The event that begins at 1 p.m. Sunday will cap the official end of the library's renovation and expansion project, which began more than three years ago and was largely funded by private donations.

John Webster, the library treasurer, said the project has allowed the library to become more of a community center, with more space available for weekly events or visitors who just want to sit down and read a book.

The library has also expanded its hours to 20 hours a week.

"I really think the library expansion has solidified the library's position in the community," Webster said of the building at 1699 Harpswell Islands Road.

The $475,000 project added three rooms, including the Sumner Family Room for nonfiction books, a storage room, and renovation of the Sue Fisher Moren Memorial Reading Room, which received a new gas fireplace, a taller, exposed ceiling, and a wheelchair ramp.

The project also upgraded the library's heating system, insulation, roof and exterior siding.

Webster said the expansion has also allowed the library to better prepare itself for a digital future. While it will always be home to bookworms, he said it has also seen more frequent use from visitors who bring their laptop or tablet computers.

"We're becoming more and more of a media center," he said. "We added a library room for nonfiction, but also added a storage facility and we finished it as if it's going to become a computer room, because at present we have only two computers."

Georgene Shuster, of Harpswell Islands Road, has been coming to the library for over 60 years. She said it's been "wonderful" to see the building's transformation and also recognized its need to connect with a digital future.

"We need the printed page as much as we need to be looking into the screen," she said.

The library's Board of Trustees decided to move forward with plans to renovate and expand the 1905 building in June 2008.

Over the following five years, the board received $50,000 from the town of Harpswell and raised $360,000 from private citizens in 28 states. Five community foundations, including the Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation, also contributed.

"Even though the economy was bad, we decided we would launch a fundraising program," Webster said, "and now five years later it's done."

The board also had its own reserve, built from years of savings by its members.

Webster said one of the major individual contributors was Al Moren, a Gun Point resident. The library's main reading room was dedicated to his late wife, Sue Fisher Moren.

Moren donated a total of $30,000 to the library over three years, Webster said, and each installment was issued as a challenge for other donors to match.

"We exceeded the goal each time," he said.

Sunday's event will include remarks by Peter Hill, an author and former history teacher at George Washington University, who now lives on Bailey Island; a re-dedication of World War I and World War II veterans monuments, and a rifle salute and taps performance by the John Leo Murray Jr. American Legion Post 171.

The event will conclude at 2 p.m. with a canon blast by the Harpswell Historical Society.

Dylan Martin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or dmartin@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DylanLJMartin.