The Clinton District branch library south of town needs a new building—and Mills Group is donating the design.
One of the fastest-growing parts of Monongalia County is the Grafton Road area south of Morgantown. It’s removed from the hustle and bustle but just an easy drive from town on U.S. 119—and it’s rapidly outgrowing its local branch of the Morgantown Public Library System.
“The Clinton District library is very well-loved by its local community,” says MPLS Director Sarah Palfrey. She’s a passionate public library advocate who came to the library system in 2017. “But it’s a tiny, 1,200-square-foot prefab metal building that has reached the end of its life expectancy.”
A longtime dream of replacing the building came much closer to reality earlier this month when the Morgantown-headquartered architecture and design firm Mills Group selected the Clinton District library from among more than 15 Morgantown-area applicants for a pro bono design project. It was a competitive group of projects to choose from, says the firm’s Managing Principal, Michael Mills. “We know library systems struggle with resources,” Mills says. “We’re big believers in libraries as a community building element, so ultimately we selected this new library because of the need and the impact we felt this project could have on Morgantown and the greater county footprint.”
The MPLS serves all of Monongalia County, operating the main library and the Aull Center local history and genealogy library downtown plus four branches outside town. The system is nimble: Palfrey and the MPLS board continually update services to keep up with changes in the ways people access books and other media. Events targeted at age and interest groups keep the library community vibrant, and it’s only ever a click away with its ever-growing online collection of ebooks, audio books, magazines, streaming videos, courses, and music.
This new design project is an exciting opportunity for an update of physical library space, says Palfrey. “First and foremost, we want to increase the capacity of the Clinton Library to meet the growing community’s needs,” she says. “We really want a dedicated children’s space and a community space for people to gather, both informally and formally through programs either hosted by the library or by community groups.”
She envisions each of the branches—Arnettsville, Cheat Area, Clay-Battelle, and Clinton District as well as downtown—having a unique collection that reflects the interests of its users. “So we have the opportunity to figure out what unique collection fits with the Clinton community. That’s the part of the process that I think I’m the most excited about.”
Other challenges ahead include finding a suitable property—the current building sits at the edge of the Clinton District Volunteer Fire Department’s lot—and a capital campaign to support new construction. But Palfrey sees this as a chance to set a new standard for library facilities across the county, and she is energized. “So much of the last two years has been reacting to the world,” she says. “Doing something on purpose before there’s a crisis is exciting, and it lets you really dream.”
Mills Group donates design work to three projects each year, one each locally to its Morgantown, Wheeling, and Shepherdstown offices. The other two projects chosen this year are a gymnasium for Wheeling Central Catholic High School and a new community service center for Jefferson County Community Ministries.
“Many folks have come to us with great, great ideas over the years and in many cases just can’t afford to even get that initial pencil to paper and get the concept moving ahead,” says Mills of the motivation for establishing the annual program in 2020. “Very often we find that the most rewarding projects are ones that are community-based, so that’s how we’ve focused this program—to give back to these communities, or the nonprofit entities, to kick projects in gear. For what little pro bono services we can give away, we see the reinvestment coming from these communities to execute, we hope, on some of these visions.”
The Clinton District branch library will launch a new children’s story time and a book club for adults this fall. And look for upcoming community meetings—the MPLS will be asking users for their wish lists.