Restoration of Whittemore rotunda set to begin

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Restoration work on the Howard Whittemore Memorial Library’s rotunda is scheduled to begin March 19. -RA ARCHIVE

NAUGATUCK — When a fundraising effort began five years ago to raise money to restore the historic rotunda at the Howard Whittemore Library, it was expected enough money would be raised by, and work would begin in, 2009.

Last November, the library was still about $71,000 short of its goal.

“That’s where the Connecticut Community Foundation comes in as saving us and enabling us to finally get the work started,” said Jocelyn Miller, library director.

The advisory committee of the Salem Foundation Fund at CCF voted in December to donate $71,000 to the project. The donation brought the library to the $382,000 needed to restore to rotunda.

The sun shines into the rotunda, which was built in 1894, through a stained glass skylight atop a dome inlaid with painted designs and gold leaf. The rotunda is the centerpiece of the pink granite library on Church Street.
Over the years, the skylight has allowed in more than sunlight into the rotunda. Water began to drip into the rotunda through the skylight during rainstorms. The interior finishes have been damaged, wallpaper has peeled and water stains run along the west wall.

Miller added the dripping water also poses a safety hazard to patrons, who might slip as they walk through the rotunda.

Miller said it’s a relief and exciting to finally get to the point where the restoration can start. The work is scheduled to begin March 19. The Massachusetts-based company Crocker Architectural Sheet Metal will be doing the restoration.

“If everything goes according to plan it should be done by October,” Miller said.

The restoration project includes repairing roofing and drainage so leaks do not persist, replacing the skylight’s glass, restoring ornamentation as well as removing and abating asbestos.

The donation in December was not the only one made to the project by CCF. The foundation approved nearly a total of $90,000 for the project in separate donations made in 2008 and 2009. The Connecticut State Library also came through with $103,000 and private donations, including major ones from the Friends of the Whittemore Library and numerous clubs, foundations and banks, rounded out the fundraising effort.

Water damage has caused the paint on the ceiling of the Howard Whittemore Library rotunda to peel away. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

Although the restoration is set to begin, work on the rotunda will extend past this project. Miller said once the work is complete, the interior of the rotunda will need to be repainted. The library still needs to raise the $5,000 necessary to do the painting, she said.

The rotunda restoration is among a list of needed repairs at the library.

About $130,000 worth of repairs were recently completed to fix the library’s leaking roof. Miller’s wish list still includes $4,300 to replace the side door and $48,200 to repair masonry.

Although the borough funds 80 percent of the library’s budget, the library is not a borough department. It is considered an “association library,” Miller explained, meaning the library must come up with its own funds to do any repairs.

Miller felt it was quite an accomplishment for the financially-struggling library to raise enough money for the restoration project.

“It will be exciting. It will certainly be a relief when it’s done,” Miller said about restoring the rotunda.

The Republican American contributed to this article.