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West Louisville library breaks ground on $5.5M renovation, expansion project

The goal is to modernize the building, making it more accessible for seniors and adding a designated space for children. It's expected to be complete by Fall 2023.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — One of Louisville's oldest public libraries is taking the next step to improve its services, breaking ground Tuesday on what the community calls a much-needed renovation and expansion project.

Mayor Greg Fischer and Louisville Free Public Library (LFPL) leaders applauded the highly anticipated $5.5 million plan for the Portland Branch Library, which has been in the works for months.

"It is already an anchor in this community, but it is poised to do more and be more for the people living here," said Chandra Gordon, the executive director of the Library Foundation which has helped raise private funds toward the initiative.

The goal is to modernize the building, making it more accessible for seniors and adding 4,500-square-feet of space -- which will include a designated space for children. Once the project is complete, the library also will feature a bigger collection of books, more computers, increased seating and a revamped public meeting area.

Richard Meadows, the president of the Portland neighborhood association called Portland Now, says the project will majorly improve a resource the community has relied on for more than a century.

"There are students who come here from school before they go home and may spend an hour-and-a-half or two hours here in a safe place before a parent gets home to their house," Meadows said.

The theme is inclusion through investment. The project is funded through local tax dollars, American Rescue Plan funds, state grants and private donations.

On Tuesday, Branch manager Jackie Matthews said the makeover will go a long way.

"The building definitely needs some TLC -- just needs some extra love," she said.

Matthews said it's vital to make the space more accessible. Many entrances have quite a few stairs, and the wheelchair ramp as it is now is still tough for many adults to navigate through.

"It can be as simple as a sturdier ramp that's easier to get to. It's something like an elevator, so we have more space to be able to offer services."

The Portland Branch Library, the third oldest branch in the Louisville Free Public Library system, was founded in 1905 and has been in the same building since 1913.

James Linton, president of the non-profit organization called Community Connections Group, says renovations like these can make a huge imprint on the neighborhood. The group works to bridge the gap between west Louisville and downtown.

"Education is a great way to balance the playing field," Linton said. "The Portland Library is a great resource for the neighborhood, but by expanding [it], it's a great resource to the entire city."

The library will remain open through the early stages of construction. The project is estimated to be completed by Fall 2023.

It's one of nine libraries built in the River City with funding from philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, according to a press release. 

"This historic library, that Carnegie helped build more than a century ago, has continued to evolve and adapt to serve the needs of the Portland community,” Library Director Lee Burchfield said. "The residents of Portland will have a modern, expanded, accessible library that they will benefit from for generations."

If you'd like to get involved with your time or through monetary donations, visit the Louisville Free Public Library Foundation's website.

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