Renovations needed at James Library in Norwell

The James Library and Center for Arts in Norwell is planning on renovations to make the centuries-old building accessible to all.

WICKED – Accessibility is a requirement and not just a wish-list in upcoming renovations to the James Library and Center for the Arts in Norwell.

In the heart of town on West Street, the 1874 Victorian building has been a space for book clubs, piano lessons, and art exhibits over the years. Now, the library hopes to raise $430,000 to make the space accessible to all with the Arts for Everyone campaign.

The library will get a new elevator, an accessible side entrance, and new handicapped-parking spaces. A fully accessible bathroom and a new walkway at the entrance are also planned.

The renovations will make the library in full compliance with Massachusetts accessibility laws.

“These renovations will allow us to fulfill our mission, which has always been to be a resource for the entire community,” said Wendy Bawabe, a member of the board of directors.

Bawabe said the need for accessibility became clear two years ago. Up until then, the library hosted the Norwell High School annual student art exhibit.

Because the high school cannot collaborate with inaccessible buildings, the exhibit was pulled after 10 days in 2015. “It really inhibits our ability to collaborate,” said Megan Ward, the library’s executive director.

The library has also been unable to apply for several competitive grants because of these accessibility issues.

“The biggest issue for long-term viability for the James is our accessibility,” said Bawabe. “If we want to be here long-term, we need to be accessible.”

The library is currently accepting donations for the campaign. The Bloomwhistle Charitable Fund has set forth a match challenge for individual donors, allowing donations to be matched up to $200,000.

Preservation is a top priority, said Ward.

“Because it’s such a historic building and in a historic district, we wanted to make sure the facade’s integrity was maintained,” said Ward.

People are going in and out of the library throughout the day, said Ward. From second graders on their way to piano class to high school students looking for a place to study, the space sees plenty of activity.

Ward predicts the building will be even busier after the improvements.

“For a small building, it really gets used a lot,” said Ward. “Norwell doesn’t really have a community center; we hope to serve that need.”

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By Zane Razzaq, photos by Gary Higgins