MERIDEN — Forty-six years after the public library opened on Miller Street, the City Council voted this week to approve the building’s first major renovation since construction was completed in the early 1970s.
The roughly 45,000-square-foot library, at 105 Miller St., opened in June 1973 and cost a total of about $2.7 million, according to Record-Journal archives. The new building replaced the Curtis Memorial Library, housed in what is now the Augusta Curtis Cultural Center, across from City Hall on East Main Street. The city also opened a west side branch of the library on the corner of West Main and Maple streets in 1945. The branch was closed in 1976.
While the Curtis Library was cherished by many for its Greek Revival and marble architecture, it was long-considered too small. Samuel E. Molod, an associate state librarian, called the children’s room “the most crowded in the state” during a visit in the 1960s, according to Record-Journal archives.
Following World War II, the city began considering its options for a larger, central library, however, it wasn’t until 1964 that the city took its first major step by hiring consultant Kenneth Shaffer to conduct a building survey. The city considered upwards of 20 sites in the 1960s, including the corner of East Main and Pratt streets, East Main and State Street, and a West Main Street site between South Grove and Butler Streets. The city also considered acquiring adjacent properties and expanding the Curtis Library.
Officials ultimately chose the library’s current location along Miller and Catlin Streets, where the old St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church used to sit, citing numerous advantages, including a central location, high pedestrian traffic, and proximity to the city’s downtown shopping area.
According to a 1969 Record-Journal story, the Miller-Catlin site choice was “predominantly predicated on the development of the Meriden Mall (formerly located on the site of the Meriden Green) and establishment of Pratt Street as a main commercial area of the city.” Another major factor was the site’s proximity to the Curtis Library. Monsignor Joseph Griffin, then chairman of the library’s Board of Trustees, said in 1969 that the Curtis Library would continue to be used in “some capacity as a library.” Today the building is owned by the city and managed by the Meriden YMCA.
In 1971, the city broke ground on the new library. The opening was delayed, among other reasons, to allow 25 movers to transfer approximately 130,000 books from the Curtis Library.
As the library has aged and as the city’s population and demographics have changed, city officials began looking at options for renovating or expanding the building. In the 2000s, the city considered a $15 million renovation and expansion of the library, but ultimately put upgrades off due to the cost.
The newly approved $7.8 renovation will fully renovate the library’s existing facility. The City Council chose the renovation over a higher-priced, $9.3 million expansion and renovation of the library, which would have added 9,000 square feet.