Standing inside the library at the old Aberdeen Central, you can’t help but appreciate the history of the place.
Beginning 101 years ago, the big room housed a fine theater for more than 30 years.
Down the road, the room will become an auditorium once again. Its restoration will begin in a couple of months, when workers fix up the place to handle dislocated city employees.
In March or April, workers will begin a $475,000 project to make part of the Aberdeen Recreation and Cultural Center — the original Central High School — a usable, working environment for city employees.
In October, employees will vacate City Hall and move into the second and third floors of the ARCC’s Central building while Aberdeen's City Hall is remodeled.
City workers will remain at the ARCC for all of 2014 and return to a remodeled City Hall in 2015.
The old library will serve as one of the main work areas for city employees. Improvements also will be made in six or seven other rooms that will accommodate city workers.
Many Central graduates think of the big room on the second floor as the school library. It housed the library until students moved to the new Central in 2004. But before it became a library, the room was the scene of many elegant evenings.
When Aberdeen Central opened in 1912, the room housed the Central theater. The transition to library occurred after 1938, when the Aberdeen Civic Theatre opened.
ARCC supervisor David Eckert is pleased that the ARCC will host city employees because the improvements being made will have lasting value for the building.
Eckert hopes the old library/theater will eventually be restored as much as possible to its original condition, which would be a real asset to the building, he said.
“That room, in my mind, will be the crown jewel of that whole facility,” Eckert said.
The city was going to have to pay money somewhere for a place to house city employees temporarily. So Eckert likes the fact that the majority of the money will go toward improvements that the Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department was planning to do anyway.
The work is going to “help bring us a lot closer to that vision,” he said.
In March and April, workers will focus on heating, ventilation and air conditioning. Duct work is exposed because the room used to have a dropped ceiling. Workers will also improve the flooring.
Early in the 20th century, the theater was lined with student desks, bolted to the floor, and theater seats. The seating was elevated in the back of the space, Eckert said.
Above the floor are skylights.
“They open up into a room in the attic,” Eckert said. “That room in the attic used to have a glass roof.”
The glass roof is gone. The ARCC would like to put in artificial lights “behind the skylights rather than putting a glass roof back in,” he said.
Plans for the restoration of the room are not concrete. But the Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department hopes to be able to do so, Eckert said.
The old library is the one space the department “would like to restore as much as possible to its original condition,” he said.
Plans call for eventually rebuilding the stage on the north end of the room to “the fashion that it was,” Eckert said.
The finished product will have great potential, Eckert said.
“It'll be such an incredibly valuable, flexible space that can be used for so many different things in the arts, meetings, receptions, just different things,” he said.
The quilt guilds can't wait until the room is done because they would like to have their quilt shows in that space, he said.
Eckert also sees the room hosting art shows.
“The Arts Council is looking at it as a smaller performance venue,” he said.
Other potential uses are black box theater and music recitals.
He thinks it will be well-used.
“Can you imagine ballroom dancing in there with a band on the stage? It could be a really cool space.”
City officials do not plan to build any permanent walls in the former library. The work area will probably be divided into temporary cubicles.
The work environment will not leave a permanent mark on the historic environment.
“We're not going over there and changing the concept of what's there,” said city manager Lynn Lander.