Renovation, Expansion Turns Library into Community Cornerstone

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — The expansion and renovation of the historic Public Library of Youngstown & Mahoning County went beyond books and study spaces — it taps into the dire needs of the community.

“Our entire mission here is to connect with the community so we can inspire them to fulfill their dreams and enrich the lives of everyone we meet,” says Amy Fifarek, PLYMC’s director and CEO. “And that is so much more than books.”

The grand reopening on Saturday marks a new chapter for the library after a two-year long expansion and renovation that cost $27 million. A 6,000-square-foot addition connects to the original building, boosting the library’s total square footage to 74,000. Fifarek says the library has been saving for the expansion for years and generous community donations help to pay for the project..

One of the new features is the Culinary Literacy Center. The center contains a fully equipped kitchen with 16 stations. Fifarek says the idea for the center came from the area’s love of cuisine.

“The Culinary Literacy Center really grows out of the love of food that our community has, we have such wonderful food traditions from all of our immigrant populations,” Fifarek says.

Culinary Literacy Center

The center will be used for programming such as nutrition on a budget, cake decorating and “learning how to cook your favorite Sunday dinner,” says Fifarek. A program with the tentative name “Adulting 101” would help kids who moved out of the house or spouses who recently lost their partner learn the basics of food preparation.

Just off the culinary center is an event space that can hold up to 125 people. The space can be rented for baby showers, birthday parties and more and is already filling up for this summer, Fifarek says.

Anyone looking to hone a certain skill can likely find a space that meets their needs at the library. A digitization lab, a DIY space with sewing machines, a 3D printer, an audio and video recording studio and even a loom can now be found at the library. Fifarek says these new spaces encourage community members to better themselves and connect with others.

“People coming together — that’s really what happens at the library,” she says. “Whether it’s the community members connecting with the staff to find the resources they need or people connecting with the individual spaces in the building to pursue their business goals, or their school goal.”

In addition, eight new study rooms and several more places to sit, read and study were added, which Fifarek says it true to the original space.

“We added much more space for actual people, which itself is a throwback to the original building,” she says.

Fifarek says her favorite part of the entire renovation and the “big reveal” is the remodeled reading room. The room, featuring rows of bookshelves and ample seating, is in the original building from 1910 that hosts the Wick Avenue stairs entrance with 800-pound bronze doors. The stairs were removed from the entrance in the 1950s to create additional space and make the lower level of the building accessible to the public.

Fifarek says the original blueprints for the steps and the room were used to “rebuild much of what once was.” The art glass ceiling in the Parthenon frieze of the reading room was also brought back. It previously was covered up with a layer of concrete with fluorescent lighting. Natural light is now a prominent feature throughout the building, she says. A newly paved patio and greenery area allows for outdoor programming such as yoga and story time for kids, Fifarek says. The space gives yet another option for people to gather or enjoy alone.

The Grand Reading Room

The lengthy and costly renovation gives the library an opportunity to serve as more than a place to rent books — it’s a community center. Bronze lettering above the matching doors of the Wick Avenue entrance reads “For the People,” which Fifarek says is an important reminder of the library’s role in the community.

“We really are a space and a place and service for the people. We wouldn’t exist without the people of this county,” she says. “We want to make sure everyone knows that they are welcome here in the library.”

The next chapter for the library starts at noon on Saturday with its grand reopening and ribbon cutting. The event runs until 5 p.m. and activities will include live music, food trucks and architecture tours led by library staff.

Pictured at top: Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County CEO and Director Amy Fifarek

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.