By Heidi Zemach
Special to The Ridgway Record
WILCOX – A newly renovated historic building at the center of Wilcox is well lit and busy with activity some nights when most other buildings are closed down and residents are home relaxing. The Barratt Building, soon to become home to the Wilcox Library, now has an elegant new tongue-and-grove pine wood floor to go with its multi-shade paint job and stylishly-painted ceiling tiles.
A labor of love, but also of necessity, Wilcox Librarian Barb DePonceau, her husband Mike, and father Paul Michael spent six 12– to 17–hour days the week before Thanksgiving laying in the hardwood floor boards. Now they have newly painted shelves, and are working on installing them in the building’s original shelving cabinets, left intact when the building was gutted and renovated. They have ordered additional new book shelves for all the libraries collections, which will be delivered, and set up in time for the tentative Jan. 5 opening date according to plan, DePonceau said. In addition, the library plans to acquire some new furniture, such as chairs and tables that the much smaller existing library had no room to accommodate.
The majority of the building’s funding for restoration and handicap-access came from Elk County Community Development Block Grants. But volunteer labor is finishing the job. DePonceau, who is taking the work a step at a time, is unsure when additional volunteers might be needed to accomplish the move from the existing library, located a block away. She has set the third week of January as Grand Opening Week.
Meanwhile, local residents have complimented the stylish building evolving in their midst — especially its exterior designed to restore the building to the way it once looked in 1940’s-era photographs. For a small town with no grocery stores or school, and few businesses besides a photography shop, hotel/bar, small eatery, post office, plus a senior/community center, churches, ballpark and American Legion, the prospect of a roomy new library, filled with books, magazines, computers, videotapes, historical displays and kids reading and craft activities is significant.
WILCOX – Elk County Planners, Jones Township Clerk Laurie Storrar, and Wilcox librarian Barb DePonceau visited the renovated historic Barratt Building on Marvin and Clarion Streets, where work is being completed on what will become the new Wilcox Library.
The library was originally housed in the Barratt Building, until it was moved to its current location at the corner of Marvin and Buchanan Streets in 1989. None of the Elk County Supervisors who had been invited attended the event, which took place the morning after the election.
The visitors walked through the interior and spoke with chief contractor Andy Daghir, of Daghir Construction. Subcontractors John and Anthony Salandra of Brockway were busy painting the windows and doorways. After discussing whether to use semi-gloss or satin paint on the windows and trimmings, DePonceau stuck Post-It notes around the place reminding the painters about the colors she had chosen: “Irish Crème” for the top of the pillar, “Down Home” for the lower portion, and “Tamarind” for the wall facing the new entrance.
“I think the building itself it looks amazing compared to a year ago,” said Tracy Gerber, the CDBG Coordinator for Elk County, which provided the bulk of the funding for the $226,172 renovation project. “It’s been completely gutted and refinished, and I’m very happy with the contractor that’s working on the project too. He’s done a wonderful job and he’s been great to deal with.”
This week Elk County Commissioners approved an additional $14,300 to install a handicapped- accessible ramp, platform, and parking spaces at the side entrance of the building.
“I’m just ecstatic. It’s more than I thought it was going to be,” Storrar said. “I see people coming along and stopping out front just to look at it. It’s created a lot of community excitement I think.”
Since renovation work began, several other property owners in the vicinity have been inspired to spruce up their own buildings, Storrar said. They include nearby homeowners, included Dan Freeburg, who provided many great concepts for the project according to Storrar; the American Legion, which was given a fresh coat of paint; and an old barber shop that the Jones Township Historical Society recently painted. With the bid for new streetlights being opened Nov. 15, and sidewalks to be put along Clarion Street, that part of Wilcox will soon look beautiful, Storrar said.
The Barratt Building’s exterior, including new store-front windows, entranceway and paint job, was recreated from 1940s photographs of Dr. Barratt’s, according to Andy Daghir. The doctor’s wooden service counter window, featuring curvy fretwork, behind which he may have once prepared prescriptions, was removed from the middle of the room and placed at the new entranceway, as one of several touches to preserve the building’s historic look. Workmen also have saved the building’s original wooden shelves. They line the library’s walls on either side.
Storrar and DePonceau are planning a painting party this weekend to paint the white block ceiling tiles in a way that will resemble a tin ceiling of the historic building’s period. The week before Thanksgiving, local volunteers will install a wooden floor. That will be followed by bookshelves and eventually, library furniture and books. Some mechanical work and final painting remains before his firm’s role in the job is completed, which should be before the end of the year, Daghir said