Weymouth Mayor Susan Kay says she is committed to reopening the long-shuttered Fogg Library in South Weymouth, despite new estimates that almost double the renovation cost to $1.4 million.
The town set aside $650,000 for the project and recently received another $40,000 for it from the Massachusetts Historical Commission, according to library director Robert MacLean.
Kay said more cash could be available to fill the gap from the town’s mitigation fund, money given to the town by the developers of the former South Weymouth Naval Air Station.
“I do think the town should spend the additional money needed to restore Fogg Library,” Kay said last week in response to questions. “I am committed to the revitalization and reopening of Fogg, as I have promised our residents since I took office” in 2007.
She added that Town Councilor Michael Smart, who represents the neighborhood served by the Fogg, “reminds me of that promise constantly.”
The mayor’s promise to proceed and do the work needed to reopen the library bucks the statewide trend of closing branch libraries, and it delighted MacLean.
“I’m sort of like in stunned happiness,” he said. “Nowadays you don’t hear about cities and towns having the money to reopen branch libraries. It’s a wonder.”
The Town Council would have to approve the expenditure, according to Town Planning Director James Clarke. “I think there’s a keen interest among many people to get the building restored and to reopen it,” he said.
The Fogg Library, which cost $34,580 to build in 1898, closed in 2005 when water leaking into the building from the roof and walls caused extensive damage. The town spent $1.65 million to repair the exterior of the granite-faced, slate-roofed building, finishing the work in the fall of 2010.
But the building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, cannot be used as a library again until the interior water damage is fixed, MacLean said. The basement, where the children’s room was located, is in particularly bad shape, he said.
Plans call for moving the children’s room upstairs and creating two public meeting rooms in the basement and a special collections space on the top floor. An elevator would be installed, and about 50 windows also need repairs, Clarke said.
The town originally estimated the work would cost $850,000, but more recent figures place the cost at about $1.4 million, MacLean said.
Statewide, 27 branch libraries have closed since 2002, a drop of 23 percent, according to Dianne L. Carty of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners. “Maybe one or two” reopened, she said.
Weymouth’s main Tufts Library is open six days a week. The Franklin Pratt and North branches are open 16 hours a week.
Weymouth has had a public library since 1880 when the Tufts Library opened with more than 2,300 volumes; within a year, there were almost as many borrowers as books, according to a town history. The library moved to its current location in Weymouth Landing in 1965.
The first branch library opened in 1922 in North Weymouth, moving to its current site in 1954. In 1924, a branch library opened in East Weymouth; thanks to library trustee Franklin N. Pratt, the branch moved into a new building in 1978.
John S. Fogg, a shoe manufacturer and banker, left the money to build the Fogg Library. Fogg also provided the funds for the Fogg Opera House, across the street in Columbian Square, where residents went to see operas and hear speakers — including Booker T. Washington, a sometime summer resident of the town.
The Fogg was a private library that served mainly residents of South Weymouth until 1975, when it was incorporated into the town’s public library system. The imposing structure was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981. Distinctive features include carved oak bookcases and stairs, two fireplaces, and book-themed stained glass windows.
“It’s probably one of the most beautiful buildings in all of Weymouth,” MacLean said. “If you say the word ‘library,’ most people would think of a space like Fogg Library.”
Clarke said the town will use the money it already has to begin restoring the windows in the building, at a cost approaching $130,000. “We should be ready to go out to bid in the fall and do the work over the winter,” he said.
He said he’s hoping the rest of the renovation could begin by next spring.
In the meantime, MacLean said librarians will continue to weed through the Fogg’s collection. Most of the children’s room materials suffered water damage and need to be replaced, he said. He said library supporters want to raise $50,000 toward that goal and to buy laptops for patrons’ use.
“People in South Weymouth have been very loyal about making sure we didn’t forget that the Fogg needs to reopen,” he said. “A lot of people grew up in that building and it’s part of their childhood memories. They want to enjoy it [again] themselves, but also to bring their children and grandchildren there.”
He said that with a third of the town’s population living in South Weymouth, the library could become a popular destination, especially with new meeting rooms in the basement and wireless access throughout.
“We hope it becomes like South Weymouth’s living room,” he said.
Johanna Seltz can be reached at email@example.com.