Children’s Library entrance revamp complete

WESTFIELD-While Joseph Muto and Christopher Eck were working on the Children’s Library entry restoration project this summer, their thoughts often went back to the people behind the scenes in the 1830’s who originally worked on the building.

“I enjoyed working on this project because of the connection to the community and the history of the building,” said Muto, owner of J.A.N. Woodworks & Renovations. “Often while working on the project we thought of the craftsman that had done the original work.”

Linda Saltus, chair of the building and grounds committee who oversaw the renovation, said, “We are absolutely thrilled that the project has turned out beautifully.”

Joseph Muto, on left, owner of J.A.N. Woodworks & Renovations, stands with his employee, Christopher Eck, in front of the completed restoration of the Children’s Library entrance, which was done this summer. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

Saltus said the men “exceeded” the committee’s expectations on the project.

“Our hope now is that the renovation will preserve the entry way for another 50 or 100 years,” she said.

Saltus is joined on the building committee by Jayne Mulligan, Susan Kingra, Deborah Strycharz, Joseph Flahive and Kate Deviny. Deviny is the Westfield Athenaeum’s director, while Mulligan, Kingra, Saltus, and Strycharz serve on the board of directors and Flahive is on the committee representing the community.

Saltus noted that due to the historical deed restriction in place on the exterior of the Athenaeum, the project was submitted to and approved by the Westfield Historical Commission.

“We literally met in the parking lot over the summer about this project,” said Saltus, adding, “We were socially distancing ourselves to keep everyone safe.”

Saltus explained that the renovation work was also able to move forward by securing private funding for a majority of the project.

“Our donor is Catherine Aborjaily, who gave it with the understanding it was from her and her deceased husband Dr. Alfred Aborjaily, who was a great reader,” said Saltus.

“I felt that the Westfield Athenaeum was a well-established, vital community resource that deserved some help and when I heard about the Children’s Library entrance needing restoration work, I wanted to make a donation,” said Aborjaily.

A plaque will grace the walls just inside the Children’s Library noting the restoration was possible because of the couple.

“I wanted to recognize my husband because of his love of reading and delivering babies,” said Aborjaily, noting her husband’s practice had been located across from City Hall for 30 years.

“There are many fabulous family resources in the city and the Athenaeum is one of them,” said Aborjaily. “I thought that children, parents and grandparents that walk through the door who he delivered would appreciate seeing his name.”

Taken around 1890, this shows the entrance of what was then the Westfield Athenaeum and is now the Children’s Library, which recently underwent a restoration to preserve the historic building. (WESTFIELD ATHENAEUM ARCHIVES)

The first phase of the restoration work involved removing rotted wood and bringing the lead paint to an intact condition which was completed by Abide, Inc., according to Muto.

“The upper most portion of the surround above the entablature had to be replaced including the scrolls,” said Muto. “The committee selected mahogany as the replacement material due to its natural resistance to rot and water damage.”

Muto noted the material was supplied, milled and donated by John Carlo Woodworking in Westfield.

“Chris Eck and I then began the rebuild which included re-glazing the sidelites and transom,” said Muto. “The lower portion of columns and pilasters required wood hardener and then were repaired with epoxy and polyester wood fillers.”

The men then primed and painted the door and surround.

“All of the original copper flashing was replaced and coated to help slow the effects of acid rain,” said Muto.

The surface to the lintel to the Children’s Library is being prepped for repainting by J.A.N. Woodworks & Renovations of Westfield. (CHRISTOPHER ECK PHOTO)

Muto added the project took approximately six weeks, partly due to weather conditions and the window glazing needed to dry a minimum of two weeks before it could be painted.

Saltus added that Custom Railing on Union Street has also installed a handrail at the library entrance that matches the back entrance.

With this renovation project completed, the committee will now set its sights on the Great Hall which is part of phase three of the Athenaeum’s capital campaign project.

“We need to raise $750,000 to $1 million to do that project,” said Saltus, noting the committee will start soon outlining what has to be done and how those aspects of the renovation will be accomplished.

“While working on phase one and two we did a lot of ground work already,” said Saltus. “We know we need a new floor, new painting, mostly aesthetics. We want to maintain all of the aspects of that beautiful building.”

The entrance to the Children’s Library is shown being prepared for the restoration project which took place this summer. (LINDA SALTUS PHOTO)

Saltus also thanked the Greater Westfield community for its ongoing support of the capital campaign.

“Thanks to community support, a new West entrance and rehabilitation to the Adult Reference room and the interior of the Children’s Library were all completed in phase one and two,” said Saltus.

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