Port Arthur to reopen revived, restocked library
By Ken Stickney
There’s no shortage to what the Port Arthur Library staff must accomplish next week.
Computers must be installed. Chairs — hundreds — must be placed. Books must be ordered — 1,100 juvenile titles alone.
There’s a parking lot to stripe and the copier can’t give change and outside furniture was due any minute this week.
But Jenniffer Hudson Connors, assistant library director, said there’s palpable excitement, too, among the library’s staff — 12 full time, 10 part time — because they will welcome patrons into the building for the first time since August 2017.
The library, 4615 Ninth Ave., will formally open with ceremony and tours from 2-5 p.m. March 23. Special guests, refreshments and other activities are scheduled. People can sign up for library cards and update their addresses. The public is invited.
The library — the staff is using #PAPL2.0 to describe the revived library — starts its second life that day after sustaining damages high (the roof) and low (flooding) during Hurricane and Tropical Storm Harvey.
Sixty percent of the collection, roughly the portion above the flood line, was destroyed. So was the furniture and shelving and most of the equipment, computers and furniture.
But 40 percent of the collection was salvaged. That included volumes and documents in the genealogy area and in local history. Church records were recovered. Connors said the library — it was covered by the Texas Municipal League Insurance Risk Pool — will reopen with at least 51,436 pieces in the collection and more is coming.
“No one was in the building at the height of the water,” Connors said, though a best guess suggests that at the peak of flooding, water rested at 18-24 inches high in various corners of the 24,500 square feet of library space. That peak is marked graphically on the window outside Connors’ office.
The 19-month wait to reopen was marked by Director Steven Williams’ insistence that the facility would not open before it was fully ready. That’s why patrons will step into a library better than the one they remember in 2017. Better, even, than the one that opened new there in 1980.
Connors said everything was “cleaned out and rebuilt.” There is new sheetrock, electrical work, ceilings and walls. There is new carpet and a sprinkler system that brings the library up to code.
SynergyNDS, a turnkey recovery company from Florida, oversaw the $6.1 million rebuild that patrons will see March 23.
“Everything is better because it is fresher,” Connors said. “There are no lingering dampness issues. Everything is brand new.”
Among upgrades, she said, is the brightly colored children’s area, in more clearly defined space; tech upgrades; new adult and children seating areas; more natural lighting and LED lighting.
“We have more purpose-driven spaces, like a classroom area,” Connors said. There, English language and citizenship classes will be taught. Conference and community rooms will be available for public and non-profit use. An outdoor seating area is planned.
New programs will complement the new look: Family History Fridays; hands-on history events; pre-school story time; Throwback Thursday board game nights, with Monopoly, Clue, Life and more.
You can also “Book a librarian,” an opportunity to meet with a library for 45 minutes to an hour for a topic of choice: family history, social media accounts, introduction to email, or how to use library databases. Library staff suggested that program.
The staff moved back into the building starting in January, after 15 months in two trailers located behind the library. So March 23 will mark a new start for the staff.
Patrons, too, will get a new start. The library, with approval from the City Council, has waived fines on patrons’ previous record.
“As we re-open our library, we want to start fresh and welcome everyone back. If you lost a book or had any overdue fines, they’ve been zeroed out,” Williams said.