Gloucester's Sawyer Free Library expansion effort gifted $450,000

May 31, 2022 : The Daily News of Newburyport

GLOUCESTER — Sawyer Free 2025, the philanthropic capital campaign to fund a comprehensive renovation, modernization and expansion of Gloucester’s public library, has received two grants totaling $450,000 in the two weeks since it launched.

BankGloucester made a charitable donation of $250,000 to Sawyer Free 2025 last week and MassDevelopment and the Mass Cultural Council is granting $200,000, one of 94 capital grants from the organizations’ fiscal year Cultural Facilities Fund, to the campaign.

“The Sawyer Free Library has been an important part of this community for many generations,” said BankGloucester President & CEO Patrick Thorpe in an announcement of the bank’s gift. “We at BankGloucester are pleased to make this contribution and to be a part of this project. As a source of educational and reference materials as well as programming for both students and adults, Sawyer promotes enrichment and enjoyment for all ages. Additionally, it’s always been an ideal location for community gatherings and meetings. This renovation and expansion will enable our library to continue to be a significant resource for the people of Gloucester, both now and in the future.”

The proposed Sawyer Free 2025 project would preserve the exterior of the library’s Monell Building along Dale Avenue and add a 15,000-square-foot addition extending toward School Street. The project is meant to update the library with expanded space for its programming and that of community groups that use it, allow for better use of technology, and provide improved accessibility and sustainability in terms of energy use.

The project is estimated to cost $28 million. A provisional award of $9.3 million from the Massachusetts Board of Library commissioners accounts for just over a third of the project’s cost, and the campaign has already netted $14.1 million including the MBLC grant before the latest two gifts.

“This is a tremendous validation of our vision to fund this once-in-a-lifetime investment in a vital community resource,” said Barry Weiner, a retired attorney and the campaign chair for Sawyer Free 2025, in a prepared statement announcing the state grant.

“BankGloucester’s generous contribution represents a high-octane injection of momentum into a campaign that’s poised to hit overdrive,” he said. “We believe our fellow citizens of Gloucester as well as residents across Cape Ann will respond to this show of support and rise to this occasion with donations both big and small.”

The completion of the new facility — featuring a sound studio, a film studio, a digital tech lab and 110-seat community meeting space— is projected to result in a 25% increase in annual visitors, a 25% increase in the number of public programs offered each month by the library and a 50% increase in the number of programs hosted at the library by partner agencies. More than 15,000 people, about half of Gloucester’s population hold Sawyer Free Library cards.

“Sawyer Free Library has a broader reach than any other single organization in the community,” said Jenny Benedict, library director. “This new space will provide so many more opportunities to connect and collaborate with our more than 100 partner community service providers and will deepen our collective impact on the city of Gloucester.”

Construction is slated to start in early 2023 and take approximately 18 months. During that time, the library will remain open and move to a temporary location that has yet to be determined, said Benedict has said.

“These kinds of attractions foster community, build our creative economy and bring vibrancy and visitors to Massachusetts,” said MassDevelopment President and CEO Dan Rivera when announcing the state grant. “(These grants) will support our partners in the cultural sector.”