Work on Bixby Library creates potential for more programs

VERGENNES — Adding a second porch door, higher porch railings and stairs from that porch down toward a rear parking lot might at first not seem like that big a deal for the Bixby Memorial Free Library.
But those simple changes to the porch at the 104-year-old Vergennes landmark’s west end, along with the planned addition of push bars to the library’s front doors, serve a key purpose: They are key fire-safety upgrades that increase the Bixby’s legal capacity from 50 people to 200.
And, according to Bixby Executive Director Jane Spencer, allowing more people in the building could make a big difference as the Bixby works to fulfill its mission as a 21st-century library.
“For the past five years plus we’ve been making an incredible effort to open the library to new groups of people, more varied groups of people, really opening ourselves up to the entire community,” Spencer said. “And if you don’t create the space where you can expand and make that happen, then you’re standing still. So I would say for right now it’s very important.”
The new door, from the library’s westernmost reading room, also often used for lectures and discussions, leads to the back left of the porch, not far from the new, one-story metal flight of stairs.
The railings — designed and installed by Addison’s John Baker, who also worked on the stairway — are also metal. They run between the white pillars that support the porch roof and over the pre-existing wooden railings that are too low to meet modern safety codes.
White Adirondack chairs, paid for by the Friends of the Bixby Library, are grouped at the other end of the porch, on which patrons can now sit to enjoy books or the Bixby Wi-Fi.
“It’s a pleasant place,” Spencer said.
Funding for the rest of the roughly $30,000 project, which the Bixby celebrated with a Thursday evening reception, will come from a 50-50 split from the library’s Peter Morris Fund and from a nonprofit source. That second source must remain anonymous, Spencer said, until an official announcement next month.
The project design was courtesy of Morris himself, an architect who came up with it before he died in February 2015. His family and friends created the Bixby fund that bears his name in his memory — Morris was a former Bixby Library board president and a tireless advocate for the Vergennes institution.
A plaque in Morris’s honor will be installed next to the new porch door. It will read: “The Bixby Memorial Free Library honors the contributions of its former Board President Peter Morris. As a gifted architect, his dedication to the historical character of the library has helped preserve it for the use and enjoyment of all. His enthusiasm for the Bixby knew no bounds.”
Spencer said Morris’ family gave the project design and other of Morris’ designs for the Bixby to the library as well as created the fund.
“We’re really grateful to all the people who donated to the fund and to the family,” Spencer said.
Other contractors who worked on the porch project include Panoramic Landscaping and Excavation, Addison Woodworks, Jeff Tweedy, Leach Brothers and P.J. Welch Corp.
The other nonprofit bequest, of about $35,000, will help fund repairs to the library’s front steps as well as the front-door push bars, Spencer said.
When all is complete, the Bixby should also be able to more easily raise money, Spencer said, both directly and indirectly as the library sees more use and can raise its profile in the five communities it serves (Addison, Ferrisburgh, Panton and Waltham as well as Vergennes).
“I don’t want to over-emphasize fundraising, but the Bixby Gala, for instance, we did at Basin Harbor and this year at the Vergennes Opera House,” Spencer said. “We’d like to move it back here, but we couldn’t because of the capacity.”
Still, she said, the most important thing is what that capacity will allow the Bixby to do for the communities it serves — something the library is trying to fine-tune during an ongoing public process to create a new strategic plan (see related story).
“We got so many things going on at the same time now,” Spencer said. “We’ll have people come and do tutoring, and then maybe have another group of people have a meeting, and have a children’s program going on, and then have other people want to use the building. So the building is being used a lot more. Plus you have people coming just to sit and relax and use the Wi-Fi or read a book. So this really gives us a lot more versatility.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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