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Chester County Press

Kennett Library & Resource Center officially opens in grand ceremony

08/29/2023 02:04PM ● By Richard Gaw

Photo by Richard L. Gaw      Flanked by Kennett Borough Council President Doug Doerfler and member at large trustee Michael Guttman, Executive Director Christopher Manna and Board President Bradley Peiper cut the ribbon at the official opening of the new Kennett Library and Resource Center on Aug. 27.


By Richard L. Gaw, Staff Writer

No one did it alone.

Everyone did it together.

From speeches to makers spaces to audio and video studios to informal gatherings on the Melton Terrace, the concept of inclusivity served as a consistent theme at the official opening of the new Kennett Library and Resource Center on Aug. 27, which drew hundreds of community members and elected officials to help usher in the reality of an idea that began a quarter century ago.

Throughout the four-hour ceremony, those who played crucial roles in the creation of the two-floor, 33,425-square-foot Library gave credit to a wide swath of municipalities, trustees, private and public contributors and most especially the community members who supported the Library’s fundraising campaign, which to date stands just $1.7 million shy of its goal. In fact, 68 percent of all financial contributions have come from private donations.

“This day reflects teamwork, collegiality, empowerment and vision,” said Thomas Swett, chairman emeritus of the Library’s Board of Trustees. “We had the opportunity to recreate a new board, to bring the people together and create a collegial atmosphere. Then we began to sense the potential for a groundswell of interest [in a new library], and it took catalytic agents to bring it to fruition. Standing here today, you can see what some of those words like teamwork collegiality, empowerment and vision mean.”

Even before the ceremony kicked-off at 1 p.m. with a ceremonial book pass along State Street from the old library to the new one, hundreds had already gathered to explore the new facility, which has enjoyed a soft opening for the past several weeks. After a land acknowledgement ceremony and performance by the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania, local dignitaries and Library board members cut the ribbon on the new building, which was followed by remarks by Board President Bradley Peiper, Executive Director Christopher Manna, Kennett Square Mayor Matt Fetick, County Commissioners Josh Maxwell and Marian Moskowitz and former Board President and current Capital Campaign Chairman Jeff Yetter in a presentation held before an overflow audience at the Library’s 110-seat auditorium.

Making mention of the natural light that seeps in through the Library’s floor-to-ceiling windows, as well as the many makers spaces, meeting rooms, reading rooms, workstations, children’s play areas and its 85 parking spaces, Peiper said that the new Library is “a welcoming environment for whatever your needs are.”

“Our vision now is focused on all the programs and services that this new and expanded space will be able to offer our communities,” Peiper said. “We have makers spaces, audio and video studios – hands-on components that people don’t necessarily need to know about but that we can teach them to use. Those who come to this Library will find it to be a very welcome environment, our mission is education, but if people who want to use 3-D printers and engravers or for students who wish to develop STEM skills, we will have all sorts of activities that will be fun for them.”

‘This project had a 99 percent certainty to fail’

In his address, Manna compared the economics and technology of 1961 – the year the Kennett Memorial Library first opened—to today and reflected that the purpose and definition of libraries has been forced to be redefined in order to address these changing paradigms.

“The rising costs of living makes it really easy to focus on our own survival and not on those who are experiencing those same pressures,” he said. “Those external pressures influence the way that we are not capable of achieving more in our lives for our families and for our greater community. Those pressures go into default every time a new opportunity presents itself to us. It’s easy to say ‘No.’ It’s easy to say there’s 99 reasons why this can’t, won’t and shouldn’t happen.

“Finding the one reason why it will work is what defines success,” added Manna, who included several new initiatives and technology that is now available at the Library. “This community, this staff, this board of trustees never gave into those 99 reasons. This project had a 99 percent certainty to fail, and yet everyone here – many who are not here today – said that it must happen, and because of that, you all found that one reason that led to 100 percent success.

“To those who say libraries are dead or just books on a dusty shelf; for those who expressed doubt at what we are capable of, all I can say is, ‘Look around.’ This building, all of you here today, all of our partners here today – instead of caving into a 99 percent chance of failure, you all did not stop until we reached that 100 percent chance of success.”

Fetick called the ingenuity that created the new Library a regional effort that included the support and funding from New Garden, Kennett, East and West Marlborough, Newlin, Pennsbury and Pocopson townships, as well as the Kennett Square Borough. He called the library a huge landmark that will continue to serve the people of the borough and area municipalities.

“It took a long time, but when you drive into town and see it at the top of the hill, I believe it has become the shining light of what is yet to come,” he said.

‘This is your Library’

Fetick and Yetter acknowledged Dansko founders Mandy Cabot and Peter Kjellerup and Longwood Gardens and its CEO Paul Redman for their respective roles in partnering with the library on fundraising events and opportunities. Yetter saved his most prominent praise for Manna, saying that the executive director made significant changes to the building’s original design, “and it has all been for the better,” Yetter said. “Chris has put life into this building, and this community will be the beneficiary of that.”

Yetter called the development of the new Library “a 25-year odyssey,” one whose original capital campaign intersected with COVID-19, the increasing costs of materials that raised the cost estimate of the new library from $18 million to more than $22 million, as well as several local naysayers who told the board that they would never be able to raise more than $10 million.

“Today, we sit at $20.3 million dollars,” he said. “In Delaware, they don’t pay for their libraries. In Pennsylvania, we pay for our libraries. One of the biggest challenges we have is explaining to people that ultimately, the state is not paying for this. It’s us, and this is your Library.

“You guys are the ones who did it.”

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail [email protected].