children's section of Schuylkill Valley Community Library

Pictured is the children's section of Schuylkill Valley Community Library. With the Keystone Grant awarded Nov. 12, the library plans to add a room to the side of the library that will be used primarily for programming. Prior to the pandemic, the libary offered numerous, very well attended programs that had to be held in the main library space, since the library is one big room, which is not ideal for many reasons, said library director Christie Brown.

The Schuylkill Valley Community Library in Leesport received a $134,712 Keystone Grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Education for building improvements.

Award recipients were selected through a competitive grant process. The Keystone Grants, announced on Nov. 12, will aid public library facilities in installing equipment, upgrading security systems, and more. 

“Libraries play a key role in our communities,” said State Sen. Judy Schwank (D-11th district) in a statement. “I’m thrilled to see some of these funds help make the Schuylkill Valley Community Library more accessible to the Leesport community.”

“We could not be more excited. This project has been years in the making and we worked very hard to get all of the application components completed,” said Schuylkill Valley Community Library Director Christie Brown.

Schuylkill Valley Community Library is a non-profit so the library’s funding is primarily allocations from the state, county and local municipalities, none of which are guaranteed, explained Brown.

“We supplement those funds with fundraisers, and donations from the community for our funding. There is often barely enough to cover our typical operating expenses,” she said. “We definitely do not have the funds to support this type of project on our own. That makes these types of grants vital to the survival, upkeep, and expansion of library facilities such as ours.”

The Keystone Grant is a matching grant, so the Library will need to cover half of the costs, with the grant funding the other half.

“I would like to thank our partner in this grant, the Borough of Leesport. A lot of hard work went into the application process and we would not have been able to do it without them,” said Brown.

The library will use the grant for building improvements, including an addition, roof replacement, an upgraded entrance to meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements and additional restrooms.

“With this grant, we are planning to add a room to the side of the library that will be used primarily for programming. Prior to the pandemic, we offered numerous, very well attended programs that had to be held in the main library space, since our library is one big room,” said Brown. “This is not ideal for many reasons. We are often not able to accommodate everyone due to fire capacity restrictions.”

Those who do attend often have to stand or crowd in between the bookshelves.

“Programs frequently get loud and disturb those who are trying to work on the computers or select books. We are also planning to add a bathroom in order to comply with local code regulations,” she said.

The roof will be replaced due to age and condition.

“Our roof is just worn out. It is almost 25 years old and has been through those crazy hail storms,” said Brown. “It's time to replace it before something catastrophic happens.”

Also, the front door will be converted to be automatic to improve ADA accessibility.

“Our front doors are really rather heavy. People often come in with walkers or even strollers and it is very difficult for them to open the door while using these devices,” she said. “We had one regular patron in his 90s that used a crutch and was always telling us how difficult it was to open the doors. Unfortunately he passed away recently and won't be able to see this positive change occur.”

The project could start as early as spring.

“There are a lot of regulations associated with this grant, so we will need to first obtain official bids and review all regulations to be sure we are in compliance,” said Brown. “I would love to see the project get started in the spring of 2021.”

Schuylkill Valley Community Library is among 18 libraries across Pennsylvania to share in $5.1 million in state grants. The awarding of the Keystone Grants was announced Nov. 12 by the state Department of Education. The money is for construction and rehabilitation of public library facilities.

"Public libraries are a staple in communities for access to educational and informative programming and materials," Acting Secretary of Education Noe Ortega said in announcing the grants. "I am thankful that these grants will allow the renovation and improvement of public libraries across the commonwealth so they can safely continue to provide resources to all."

The grants were awarded through a competitive process.

"The Office of Commonwealth Libraries is pleased that the Keystone Grants will be distributed to the selected libraries for the preservation, construction and maintenance of their facilities," Deputy Secretary for the Office of Commonwealth Libraries Glenn R. Miller said. "Our staff is delighted to assist libraries in gaining access to resources necessary to provide accessible services to the communities they support."

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