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Carnegie Borough signs 20-year pact ensuring funding for library, music hall

| Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016, 7:51 p.m.
Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
The Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall in Carnegie shown Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015.
Richard D'Loss
Fireplace seating at the restored Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall in Carnegie
Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
The Civil War room in the Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall in Carnegie Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015.

A 20-year pact between Carnegie Borough and the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall helps make the community institution financially viable for the first time in its 115-year history, according to its executive director.

“I don't think anything has more impact for our community than this institution,” said Maggie Forbes, the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall 's executive director. “Having the beautiful building is one thing, but having a vibrant atmosphere with services that match that beauty is wonderful.”

The contract, which begins Jan. 1, will allocate $70,000 to the community center for 2017. The facility will receive an additional $6,000 per year from 2018 through 2022, until it reaches $100,000. It then will receive $100,000 each year through 2036. The agreement was approved Dec. 12 by Carnegie Council members.

“In the 13 years I've been here, there's been a tremendous amount of change,” Forbes said.

In a fall newsletter, library leaders noted a 2003 capital campaign that ultimately raised $8.5 million to restore the center. Operating costs, however, continued to escalate.

The structure on Beechwood Avenue was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981. The historical value weighed into the council's decision, but the library's status in the community pushed council to provide more support.

“Deliberations over the library are not the same,” councilman Rick D'Loss said. “The library is a service provider in our community that has a very special relationship with the people of the borough based on its history and its significance within the town. So, we can't just view it as any other spending discussion. It's much more substantial than that.”

The borough's funding will be used for library operations only. Plus, the borough will provide maintenance at no additional charge.

“I can't tell you how thankful we are,” said Isabel Ford, the center's board president. “It's been a tough road at times. When I first joined the board, the library had $36 in its checking account. I can't tell you how huge the vote is to us.”

Ford said utility costs, including electricity and heating, at the 35,000-square-foot building total $87,000 annually. In a newsletter, Ford said the library loses $30,000 annually.

Steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie endowed five libraries in the United States in the early 1900s, including the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall. The $100,000 endowment from him came in the form of U.S. Steel bonds. Even after Carnegie supplemented his gift in 1903 and 1912, it wasn't enough to support library operations.

Council President Pat Catena said he recently finished a biography on Carnegie and read a quote from it to the sizable crowd at Monday night's meeting: “I choose free libraries as the best agencies for improving the masses of the people because they truly give nothing for nothing. They only help those who help themselves.”

“Isn't that the truth of our library?” Catena said. “It helped itself. Now, in turn, we are going to help it along. We are going to make sure that, by passing this 20-year contract, that the library will ensure its future viability.”

Matthew Peaslee is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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