By Carol Vaughn —
Congresswoman Elaine Luria toured the construction site of the Eastern Shore’s new regional library in Parksley Thursday.
The $5.3 million, 20,837-square-foot facility, which will be the regional headquarters for the Eastern Shore Public Library system as well as home to the new Eastern Shore of Virginia Heritage Center, is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year.
It is located at 24313 Bennett St., at the site of a former Fresh Pride grocery store.
The library project includes renovating and adding on to the former store.
Ground was broken on the library in October 2019.
The Eastern Shore Public Library Foundation earlier this year was awarded a $500,000 grant following a letter of support to the National Endowment for the Humanities from Luria.
The grant will pay for equipment, furnishings, and technology not included in the construction contract.
“Not only does this put the Eastern Shore’s history in the national limelight, but this also brings the ESVA Heritage Center into the NEH network of humanities institutions, opening doors to new collaborations, support, and opportunities,” said Dr. Art Fournier, chairman of the Foundation’s grant committee, in a press release.
Fournier led a team of volunteers, staff, historians, and archivists who worked on the grant application.
Luria was accompanied on the tour by Accomack County, Parksley, and library representatives, including Parksley Mayor Frank Russell; Accomack County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman C. Reneta Major; Supervisor Paul Muhly; Eastern Shore Public Library Director Cara Burton; Accomack County Administrator Mike Mason; Colette Nelson, president of the ESPL Foundation; Jay Davenport, Foundation vice president; Fournier; Tom Rakowski, Foundation and Steering Committee construction oversight representative; steering committee member Tim Valentine; and Janice Felker, ESPL Youth Services Coordinator.
Burton led the tour, starting at the main entrance.
“I want to recognize the construction workers and R. H. Contracting. With Labor Day coming up, this is an important time to recognize their hard work, going above and beyond during the pandemic to work on this project. It really is a bright spot on the Shore right now to see that, despite the pandemic, we are moving forward and building a new library,” she said, also recognizing Accomack County officials for their help.
Burton told Luria the library project started more than a decade ago.
“There have been volunteers who have sweated a lot of blood, sweat, and tears over these years, raising the funds, pushing and pushing it forward to get to this point,” she said.
The young adult and conference room areas of the building were put at the front of the new section of the building, where there are large windows, in order to take advantage of natural lighting and also to attract attention, Burton said.
“When young people are walking by the building, they are going to see a lot of activity in this room and it’s going to be very inviting for them to come in,” she said.
The children’s and adult stack areas of the library will be in the footprint of the former grocery store.
Next, Burton led the group down a hallway leading to the Heritage Center, in the addition to the former store.
“This wall on the right is going to be for gallery space, for rotating either artwork or historical displays,” she said.
Burton next led them into the future Eastern Shore Room, which will be a reading room and public space for local history and genealogy, with an office for a professional archivist next door and beyond that a processing room for archival materials.
“It’s almost like a triage area, where new items can come in and they can be isolated,” and processed, she said.
Burton noted that among the library’s historical materials, historian and Methodist minister the Rev. Kirk Mariner in his will donated his collection to the library. He also donated his house to the library foundation to fund an endowment for the archivist position.
“It won’t fully fund it, but that will get it started,” she said.
“We have absolutely no space right now” at the existing library to store additional historical items, she said.
Additionally, the library among its historical materials has the collection of Frances Bibbins Latimer, an Eastern Shore historian who before she died focused on Eastern Shore Black history.
From there, the tour went into the Brooks Miles Barnes Archive Room, named after retired librarian Barnes, who started the Eastern Shore Room back in the 1980s to house historical and genealogical materials.
The room is being constructed to special specifications to protect the archival materials.
“There is such a wealth of documents on the Shore that need preservation,” Burton said.
In addition to the NEH, federal funding for libraries can come through the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
Burton said the library is waiting now to hear whether it will be awarded an IMLS grant applied for.
Additional features of the new library — all of which are lacking in the existing 11,000-square-foot library in Accomac, which dates to 1965 — include a large community meeting room; separate, small rooms for meetings or group study; more space for public computer use; and a maker’s space, where people with shared interests, especially in computing or technology, can gather to work on projects while sharing ideas and equipment.
In addition to $1.5 million from the state, Accomack County contributed $2 million to the project. The remaining $1.5 million was raised by the Eastern Shore Public Library Foundation through fundraisers, capital campaigns, grants, and a loan.