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Atlanta Public Library undergoing major restoration

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[January 15, 2014]  ATLANTA The Atlanta Public Library is undergoing a major renovation. The scope of the project is so large that the library closed on Monday and will remain closed until the end of February.

Cathy Marciariello, program director at the library, has her fingers crossed that the February date for reopening can be met. The environmental committee of the Atlanta Public Library board decided that the project would take less time if all the parts of the renovation were accomplished at one time. To that end, all of the books and shelves in the library are being boxed up and moved to another location. The contractors will then move in en masse and get busy.

The word restoration is the operable term for this project. The library is being stripped of as much material as possible that has been added over the years since it opened in 1908. Once everything is done, the library will look much as it did when its doors were first opened.

Marciariello pointed out that the library restoration would not have been possible without the increase in the library district tax that was approved by voters last year. Once the money was available, the environmental committee, chaired by Steve Dreyer, commenced planning for the project.

The first part of the restoration was repair of the tile roof to stop the leaks that were damaging the interior and making the basement unusable.

Next, the wood floors, stairs, doors and railings are being stripped and returned to their original luster. Orwig Renovation & Design of Bloomington has been hired to carry out the refinishing of the maple, pine and oak that was used in the original building. Justin Orwig, owner of the company, said that he specializes in returning historic wooden structures to their original look.

One of the first tasks for the crew was removing the carpeting from the library. In many cases it had been glued down. Orwig shook his head when describing the task. "That was a much bigger job than we anticipated," he said. "The glue removal was really difficult."

Sanding the stairs, front door and floors came next. Orwig uses a special line of sanders from Germany and Sweden that vacuum the dust as the sander is in use, removing 95 percent of the wood dust. He explained that this is a requirement in Europe and England. No sanding or tuck-pointing can be done there without real-time vacuuming of dust. It makes cleanup much easier and creates a safer work environment for the contractor and library employees who have been emptying the building.

Last, special finishing oil is applied to the wood. This will protect the wood, yet allow the natural grain to be visible. The outside of the front door will also be finished with the oil, which has additives to protect the wood from weathering.

Ceiling tile is being removed to expose the original look of each room. The wall colors and trim match the original colors. Old fluorescent tubes have been removed and chandeliers with a period look are being installed. The three ceiling fans are in working condition, so the blades were stripped of paint to return them to the original bare metal.

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The librarian's desk is going to be enlarged from a semicircular shape to a full circle, providing more workspace.

One item that Marciariello is especially proud of is the restoration of the fireplace in what will become the adult reading room. The fireplace, originally wood-burning, will be switched to gas log, and the room will have couches for a relaxed atmosphere. A Bunn-O-Matic may even be added to complete the welcoming environment with a cup of coffee.

The entire entrance foyer will be tiled with material that duplicates the floor area in front of the librarian's desk, an area that is original to the building. At a store in Bloomington, the contractor was able to find a match to the 100-year-old tile.

The bookshelves that are original to the building are being stripped and the original wood exposed. Local Atlanta contractor John Ford is building more bookshelves to match the originals.

The final part of the project is the renovation of the basement into the children's library for use by students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

"The children's library space would not have been possible without a grant from the Wood's Foundation," Marciariello said.

While the library building is closed, not all of the library programs are being put on hold. The book groups will continue to meet across the street in the Atlanta Museum. The "Behind the Scenes" programs will also continue at the Atlanta Country Club.

Once the restoration is complete, the library is going to be a beautiful Atlanta showcase with modern library services, an essential part of a thriving community.

The octagonal building is one of only two that were built. Unlike Decatur and Springfield, cities that demolished historic Carnegie libraries, Atlanta has the foresight to care for a unique part of the town's history.

An open house will be scheduled to celebrate the completion of the project.

[By CURT FOX]

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