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Michael Abraitis III, president of the board of directors of Carnegie Library of McKeesport, cuts a ribbon being held by White Oak Mayor Ina Jean Marton to officially open the facility’s new parking lot Aug. 9. Looking on are state Sen. James Brewster, state Rep. Austin Davis, McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko and other library board members. (Vickie Babyak photo, special to Tube City Almanac)
Just a few hours after Carnegie Library of McKeesport cut the ribbon to its new parking lot, all 30 spaces were filled.
“We were all so excited,” said Colleen Rauschenberg Denne, library director, with a laugh.
The $256,000 project answered a long-standing need at the facility in the city’s Seventh Ward, which opened in 1900 with the help of a grant from steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.
McKeesport’s library was the 12th of nearly 1,700 Carnegie libraries constructed in the United States during his lifetime.
Duane Junker, library donor, and Thad Merriman, board member, enjoy refreshments inside the library on the main level following the Aug. 9 ribbon-cutting. Both men said the new parking lot is a real asset to the community, and hope it helps library visitors to access the facility. (Vickie Babyak photo, special to Tube City Almanac)
Carnegie, who died in 1919, didn't foresee the need for a parking lot during an era when most Americans walked everywhere, or took a streetcar.
But the lack of spaces had become particularly acute in recent years, Denne said, and the parking problem was beginning to hamper the library’s programming, including events such as book readings and signings, community meetings to discuss topics like healthcare and aging, movie screenings and craftmaking sessions.
“Even when I go to lunch, sometimes I’d come back and had to park two blocks down,” Denne said. “For people who can’t walk or who are on crutches, it’s hard. If the only space is two blocks away, they’re just going to keep driving.”
The entrance to the parking lot is on the Carnegie Street side of the building. Construction required demolition of a vacant house as well as a significant amount of fundraising --- about $240,000 so far.
Funding came from the Allegheny County Conservation District, a federal community development block grant and private and corporate donations.
But Denne said the library still needs to raise another $16,000 to pay off the project.
“If people are able to contribute, they can still contribute,” she said. “It ran slightly over budget.”
In addition to the parking lot, a “rain garden” was built to the right of the parking lot to collect storm water and keep it from going down the hill to Library Avenue.
“It means a lot less water draining over the hillside,” Denne said.
The library’s next capital improvement project will probably be renovations to the third floor, which is currently closed to the public.
“We want to have a meeting room --- not just for us, but for people in the community to use,” Denne said. “For one thing, when we have our cooking programs, it would be nice to have an actual kitchen where people can learn how to make things.”
Carnegie Library of McKeesport also has branches at Heritage Park in White Oak and the Duquesne Education Center.
Jason Togyer is the editor of The Tube City Almanac and volunteer executive director of Tube City Community Media Inc. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published August 30, 2019.