Nearly 150 people, including the city’s mayor and other local leaders, gathered Thursday evening at the Rutland Free Library to celebrate a renovation project that many in the community helped complete.
A cellist provided ambiance and the crowd raised glasses of champagne to toast the grand reopening of the Nella Grimm Fox Room, a historic and well-used community space that’s been closed since last summer.
In August, 100 square feet of the original ceiling collapsed.
Despite the extensive damage, library director Randal Smathers said, “We were extremely lucky by the timing, because it occurred 45 minutes before the book club met and the ceiling actually landed right on the book club’s table. So, it could have been a terrible, terrible tragedy for us.”
The main three-story section of the red brick library is also the oldest. It was built just before the Civil War and initially served as Rutland’s courthouse.
Several additions have occurred since it became the city's library in the 1930s. The large, historic, upstairs conference room — which seats 185 people — hosts hundreds of events every year, from lectures and concerts to Alcoholics Anonymous and garden club meetings.
The space is named after Nella May Grimm Fox, who took over her family’s Rutland business in 1914 and ran it for 37 years — unusual for a woman at that time.
The G. H. Grimm Company, which was founded by Nella May's father, Gustav Henry, was a leading manufacturer of evaporators and other supplies for the maple sugaring industry.
When Grimm Fox died, Smathers said she left $1 million to the library and two other local institutions.
Besides repairing the ceiling in the Fox Room, Smathers said they installed new carpeting, repainted the walls and wainscoting, repaired the sprinkler system and put in new energy-efficient lighting.
Altogether, Smathers said, the library spent $66,000 on the renovation project. But he said it would have cost much more had the community not stepped up.
"Anybody we called and said, 'we need help,' they showed up," Smathers said. "They didn’t ask questions, they just got here."
And even people they didn’t call showed up, Smathers said with a smile.
For instance, Smathers said he wouldn’t have thought to call Elisabeth Kulas, from the Housing Trust of Rutland County.
“But she just showed up and said, 'How can we help? We have an architect and we can probably help you decide how best to fix this,'" Smathers recounted.
Smathers said providing a free space for people to meet is vital and just another way the library serves its community.