Middletown’s Carnegie Library is long overdue for a renovation. That’s something everyone can agree on.
But some disagree whether the 105-year-old public library, neglected since it became vacant about 15 years ago, is worth salvaging after it was purchased by a preservation architect from Glendale.
Dan Mayzum, 49, owner of Architecture Renewal, purchased the building and land at 1320 First Ave. last month for $5,000 — or $90,000 less than it was appraised last year by the Butler County Auditor’s Office. In the past 11 years, the former library has been sold six times, with a price ranging from $121,000 in 2007 to $5,000 last month, according to the auditor’s office.
Mayzum called the sale price “an amazing bargain in my world” and said the dilapidated library is “an amazing building, a landmark.”
Sam Ashworth, former president of the Middletown Historical Society, said he fully supports the renovations of historical properties in the city. Demolishing a building should be the last resort, he said. But there comes a time, Ashworth said, when buildings have been in disrepair far too long to be salvaged.
“The library is past the point of no return,” Ashworth said. “It’s a risky project at best.”
Meanwhile, Rick Pearce, president of the Chamber of Commerce serving Middletown, Monroe and Trenton, said a renovated and repurposed Carnegie Library would “extend the footprint” of Middletown’s Downtown Entertainment District and draw additional visitors to the area in the future.
Pearce, a Middletown native, hopes Mayzum brings that “majestic building back to life.”
The project is “a perfect example” of utilizing existing resources to bring a restoration together, said Matt Eisenbraun, Middletown’s assistant economic development director. He called it “a catalytic project” for the neighborhood.
Mayzum understands renovating the library will take time and money.
First, he said, the roof must be stabilized. Then, if the library can get listed as a National Historic Landmark, he will apply for state and federal tax credits. This is the same strategy used by William Grau, owner of the Manchester Inn.
Grau, who lives in Illinois, has yet to obtain the necessary funds to renovate the former downtown hotel. He has been rejected for tax credits, missed deadlines and blamed a lack of support from the city for reasons putting the Manchester and the Snider Building microbrewery projects on hold.
The downtown hotel remains vacant.
The cost of renovations of the library is just under $4 million, Mayzum estimated. He plans to install two elevators in the buildings to allow guests entrance into the second floor.
Mayzum envisions four businesses operating inside the 17,000-square-foot building. He’d like to open a cooperative brewing company, a restaurant and 120-seat reception hall and a business incubator. The goal is to have the building open by the summer of 2020.
His motto: “Come to the Carnegie.”
Ashworth said back in the early 1910s, Carnegie donated $25,000 for the library building and furnishings. The city was responsible to purchase books and maintain the building at a cost of about $2,500 a year, he said. Construction on the building began in 1911 and was completed two years later, Ashworth said.
After the public library moved to South Broad Street in 1981, several companies ran unsuccessful businesses inside the Carnegie, Ashworth said. Eventually, the library, owned by several agencies, fell into disrepair and became a destination for the homeless.