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Evicted Perryopolis library finds new temporary home

The old Frazier Community Library
Bill O'Driscoll
90.5 WESA
The longtime home of the Frazier Community Library, in Frazier High School, has reverted to the exclusive use of the school.

Evicted from the only home it had ever known, the lone community library in Perryopolis is moving across town.

The Frazier Community Library, housed for 63 years in Frazier High School, is setting up shop in a much smaller space: a storefront near the traffic circle at the center of this Fayette County town of about 1,700.

The privately-funded, volunteer-run library expects to open its doors in mid-August, said longtime board president Debi Tidholm.

She said the move is temporary while the library seeks a larger, permanent space. But for now, with most of its books and furniture in storage, the library plans to resume its children’s programming and to keep on hand the best-selling novels popular with adult visitors.

“We can still provide some of the service that the community is used to having,” said Tidholm. “It will be a nice cozy little retreat for people that want to come into the library and check out a book or just peruse the volumes and see what’s there.”

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The library was created by a bequest of Mary Fuller Frazier, a Perryopolis native who, upon her death in 1948, left $1.5 million to the borough of her birth. Frazier’s will required the library to be housed in the high school that also bears her name, and there it had lived since 1960. The library space doubled as the school’s library — accessible during the day only to students and school staff, and to the community after hours and on weekends.

Prior to the pandemic, the library had welcomed about 2,000 patrons a year, said Tidholm. In recent months, it was open 11 hours a week.

But in 2022, school officials notified the library that a security audit conducted by state police found that public access to the space during community library hours posed a security threat to students. When the school board and library were unable to agree how to address the issue, the district told the library it would have to vacate the premises by June 30. (School officials said the space would remain a school library.)

The move was controversial: About 100 area residents, the vast majority of them apparently opposed to the eviction, attended the May 16 meeting at which the school board voted 9-0 to evict.

At the time, Tidholm said the library was considering taking the school district to court over the decision. But the board ultimately decided against it. “We look forward to being able to put our focus back on the programs that we offer, as opposed to our focus this past year-and-a-half just trying to stay in the library,” she said in an interview last week.

The library’s annual budget is about $20,000. About $9,000 of that comes from Frazier’s trust, with the rest coming from private donations. Now, for the first time in its history, it’s also paying rent.

“Financially it’s going to be a little bit of a struggle, but we feel it’s a necessary thing at this point in time,” Tidholm said. She declined to disclose the rent price.

The library boxed up all the books it had paid for over the years (many in the space belonged to the school), but, due to space limitations, it had to put all but several hundred of those in storage. That number includes most of its nonfiction and reference collection. It will also not immediately be able to provide visitors with internet access; that will come later, Tidholm said.

On the bright side, no longer constrained by the needs of the school day, the library should eventually be able to expand its hours of operation, she said.

She said the library will have to do additional fundraising to cover rent while it searches for a permanent home. But she was thankful for the way the community had backed it.

“The people that have gone out of their way to help us, to donate their time, their money, their energy toward this move, we are very grateful,” she said. “The support has been overwhelming from the beginning.”

The library is still accepting cash donations, she said.

Updates on the library will be posted on its Facebook page.

Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email: