Shelburne Falls’ Arms Library renovation recognized with preservation award

  • Workers from Titan Roofing place a new copper dome cap at the Arms Library in Shelburne Falls. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • A view of the finished rotunda at Shelburne Falls’ Arms Library from the circulation desk. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 11/18/2020 4:13:13 AM

SHELBURNE FALLS — Since the restoration of the Pratt Memorial Library building, now home to the Arms Library, wrapped up in the spring of 2019, patrons’ smiling faces have exhibited their appreciation for the work, with the fundraisers and construction still fresh in their minds.

In October, more than four years after the work initially began, the project was recognized with a prestigious preservation award.

The Plymouth-based nonprofit Preservation Massachusetts has awarded Jones Whitsett Architects of Greenfield and the Pratt Memorial Library Building Committee a 2020 Paul & Niki Tsongas Award. Kristian Whitsett and George Dole of of the architectural firm led the effort to preserve and renovate the 1914 library at the corner of Main and Bridge streets.

The award recognizes the efforts and accomplishments of those who have made significant contributions to preserving Massachusetts’ historic resources, a press release from the design firm explains.

“We were thrilled to get the award and the state recognition,” Whitsett said.

A virtual awards ceremony was held last month, where several larger-scale and more expensive projects were also honored.

“It was really great that this smaller building got recognition that it definitely deserved, not in Boston and not with a huge budget,” Whitsett said.

The Greenfield design firm provides architectural services for projects ranging from municipal buildings, cultural centers and schools to renovations of historic properties.

“We looked at the building as a whole and tried to prioritize what needed to happen,” Whitsett said of the library project. “It turned into a long-phased project, but I’m really proud of that. It ensured that everything could get done.”

Work on the four-year renovation began in April 2015 with roof replacement, followed by sealing and waterproofing, and interior restoration.

Each step was taken with historical authenticity in mind. Most notable of what was preserved inside are the pillars, fireplaces, tile floors, main desk and all of the woodwork, according to Arms Library Director Laurie Wheeler.

“We needed to balance maintaining the historic nature of the building with creating a building that was solid enough to endure, and a space that would be up-to-date and meet community needs, as well as create a space that would function well into the future,” she said.

Original molding and detail work in and around the rotunda was repaired by craftsmen, painters used colors from the time period, and the historic murals in the main reading room were preserved.

“Original materials were kept where possible and new materials worked with similar fine craftsmanship,” Wheeler said. Material replacements, such as the terra cotta roof tiles, were specially made to replicate the original materials, and the stonework and copper dome roof were recreated almost exactly.

While the changes on the upper floor are subtle, the lower floor is where the most renovation work was done. The new Children’s Room is a highlight for many, as Wheeler explained, “with little ones giving it a ‘thumbs up.’”

Shelburne Selectboard Chair Andrew Baker commented, “On the lower floor, what was once a fairly grim concrete basement was transformed into a colorful and inviting center for children and youth, along with a new community meeting room.”

Most of the fundraising was done by the board of trustees and a group of volunteers, with Selectboard member John Payne giving an initial contribution to kickstart the efforts in late 2011. Additionally, Shelburne appropriated money each year toward the project and several grants supported it, including one from the state Executive Office of Administration and Finance and a matching grant from the state Cultural Facilities Fund.


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