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A peek inside the ongoing renovations of the historic Braddock Carnegie Library

A construction fence surrounds the Braddock Carnegie Library.
Jakob Lazzaro
90.5 WESA
The Braddock Carnegie Library on Sept. 19, 2023. The new main entrance will be just behind the statue.

The major construction and renovation project the Braddock Carnegie Library undertook last year is about halfway done, library officials said this week.

The sounds of construction echo off the bare walls.

Construction dust coats the floor in the old structure on Library Street in the heart of Braddock.

“We're sort of midway,” said Vicki Vargo, executive director of the Braddock Carnegie Library Association, speaking earlier this week in one of the building’s mostly empty rooms. “A lot of infrastructure work was done.”

Contractors have installed electrical, heating and air conditioning systems, and an elevator — major components of the renovation, Vargo said. Work still remaining involves the adaptation of the building’s former swimming pool into “the Book Dive” event space and the improvements to the building’s old music hall.

The library was the first one opened in the United States by famed steelmaker and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Long considered a community gem, it boasts a ceramics studio in the basement (the former bathhouse), a print shop on the third floor, a gymnasium, and numerous other amenities and community resources.

“Carnegie started this and it's up to us to continue it, whether or not you like the man,” Vargo said. “His idea was good. And we want to keep operating to provide the services that he had in mind.”

Planning and fundraising for the improvements has been ongoing for several years and started prior to the pandemic. Pandemic-related supply chain issues and inflation have pushed some costs up, Vargo said; the original price tag for the renovations was planned to be closer to $15 million.

But, there was a pandemic silver lining: it helped everyone learn how to operate out of the building, Vargo said. The library has been operating temporarily out of a small storefront on nearby Braddock Avenue and has been using other community spaces for programs.

The library has raised more than 90% of the roughly $20 million price tag for the renovations — much of that from foundations and government sources, and some from individuals. (Like all of the libraries outside of Pittsburgh, it is not part of the larger Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh system.)

It’s still unclear when exactly the building will reopen to the public, Vargo said.

“Hopefully, we will be planning for that next year at this time,” she said. “But … given the supply chain issues, we may have to just wait and see.”

Kate Giammarise focuses her reporting on poverty, social services and affordable housing. Before joining WESA, she covered those topics for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for nearly five years; prior to that, she spent several years in the paper’s Harrisburg bureau covering the legislature, governor and state government. She can be reached at or 412-697-2953.