Once so dark and cramped that it faced possible closure, the Smithtown public library's historic main branch now glows with bright lights -- and a brighter future.
Sunshine streams through arched windows at the renovated library, and new lamps in the first floor's main reference room illuminate three large murals depicting town history. Poor lighting obscured the murals before the library closed last year for a major expansion, director Robert Lusak said.
"This was a very dark building when we started construction," he said during a tour of the facility last week. "We wanted to brighten it up."
The library faced a bleak future 12 years ago, when Smithtown residents complained that the cash-strapped system's four branches, then run by the town, lacked books and services. State Department of Education officials, citing dimly lit spaces and a shortage of shelves, threatened to withdraw the library's accreditation.
In 2001, the library was split from town government and re-formed as a special district. And in 2008, voters approved a $21 million bond to construct a new Nesconset branch and overhaul the ones in Smithtown, Kings Park and Commack. The bond added about $40 a year to the average tax bill.
The Smithtown and Kings Park branches, both closed last year for renovations, are expected to reopen later this month; Commack and Nesconset reopened last year. Altogether, the expansions added about 23,000 square feet to the four branches, which share nearly a half-million books.
The Smithtown branch, a Colonial-style redbrick structure on the northeast corner of state routes 25 and 111, grew by 21 percent -- or 6,000 square feet -- with the addition of new children's and community rooms. The building includes the original library built in 1912.
Repairs had been "long overdue," said Joseph A. Vallone, president of the library's board of trustees. "People were coming in and complaining that it was dull looking," he said. "Now we have more room for our collections."
Library officials believe it will be cheaper to run with a revamped boiler room, improved temperature controls and energy-efficient lighting. There's also a new elevator, a room for teenagers and digital kiosks for checking out books.
The modern technology is largely hidden by a veneer resembling an early American homestead, with wood trim, iron handrails and a reading room evoking a 19th-century study.
Town Supervisor Patrick Vecchio, who had supported the creation of the library district, said the renovation "enhances the image of the town and makes the public feel good about it."
The upgraded library seems "a little more open, a little less cramped," said Max Jacobs, 18, of Smithtown, who planted a new garden there as part of his Eagle Scout project.
"The whole aura has changed," Jacobs said. "It's a lot more inviting."
How the Smithtown public library system has grown
1907 Smithtown Library, with 603 books, opens in the former office of Judge J. Lawrence Smith on East Main Street.
1912 New library building opens at southwest corner of present-day Main Street and state Route 111. Structure moves across the street in 1950.
1952 Previously autonomous, library is transferred to Town of Smithtown.
2000 State Department of Education criticizes facilities, threatens to deny accreditation.
2001 Town residents vote to remove library from town government, create Smithtown Special Library District.
2008 Voters approve $21 million referendum to build new Nesconset branch and expand the three other branches.
2011 Nesconset and Commack branches reopen.