Small packages, great things: Mezzanine opens at Carnegie library

Written by Maggie Forbes

What and where is the Mezzanine? I’ve been hearing that a lot lately.

The term “mezzanine” is most commonly used in theaters (the level between orchestra and balcony seating). However, I think the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall has a spot-on name for the newest upgrade to its historic landmark facility. According to Merriam-Webster, a mezzanine is “a low-ceilinged story between two main stories of a building.”

The Mezzanine is a previously unimproved, partial floor between the Library (first floor) and Studio (basement) levels of the building. Its ceilings are not low. Once accessible only via a steep staircase behind stacks in the library, or an even steeper exterior staircase, the Mezzanine was not a public space.

In the past, it served as work space for library staff. Later, Carnegie Performing Arts Center used it as an extension for their dance and theater classes taught in the old gym (now Studio). Most recently, it functioned as a dark, dreary office amidst catchall clutter, storage and damp. I did not include the dilapidated Mezzanine on facility tours.

Until now! Completed in January as the third and penultimate prong of “Completing the Carnegie Carnegie,” this approximately 900 square feet of space already packs a wallop.

Our beautiful 35,000-square-foot building has a wealth of large, open spaces, but no small programming or meeting. The Mezzanine now has three rooms: a small, efficient office shared by our financial manager and Espy Post curator; a meeting room; and a classroom, complete with kitchen and restroom.

Contractors took the walls of the classroom down to the brick and stone that add a “wow” factor to the Studio. Seminar tables can be reconfigured easily for particular programs. Only a working counter separates the kitchen, making it ideal for cooking classes. Clerestory windows, high on the wall below the ceiling, fill the room with light.

As it suggests, the meeting room’s centerpiece is a table that can seat up to eight people. Incidental seating in the corners and framed photographs of the Library & Music Hall give the meeting room a warm, gracious feel. Another clerestory window, for some reason once covered with wall board, and a double-paneled glass door bring natural light to this once-windowless room.

The meeting room’s exterior door leads to a concrete area way. I am waiting for community volunteers (teens, Scouts, service groups) to convert it into an inviting patio. It has a bright southern exposure. Wooden benches and potted plants would be transformative.

A short staircase and electric lift connect the Mezzanine to the Studio. All three and a half floors of our facility are now accessible!

Why am I so proud? Since January, the Mezzanine has been used for twice a week English as a Second Language classes offered by Literacy Pittsburgh. Both the instructor and the students were thrilled to move from the more than 2,500-square-foot Studio into the right-sized classroom.

Volunteers from Robert Morris University offer free VITA tax preparation on Saturdays. The Chartiers Valley Salvation Army Service Center offers monthly cooking classes. Our social work intern can now meet privately with patrons.

Of course, programs in the Mezzanine have to be scheduled. It will have different uses at different times. The ACFL&MH held January’s board meeting there. Steel City Amateur Radio Club has scheduled ham radio classes there. It’s served as a “green room” for Studio performers.

As well as being an alternative performance space, the Studio is a great venue for private events ranging from reunions to showers to weddings. In early January, there was a fundraiser for a Ukrainian music camp – a dinner followed by music and dancing. The Mezzanine was a boon for staging the fabulous food that played starring role in the evening. Heretofore, food had to be served from the kitchen off the second floor Lincoln Gallery, with no staging area.

The foundation of the Library & Music Hall mission is to “build community.” Thanks to generous support from Eden Hall Foundation and a Keystone Commonwealth Libraries grant, the Mezzanine is a reality that will help us find new ways forge new partnerships in advancing our mission.

Maggie Forbes is executive director of the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall.

Published on Feb 15, 2023 by TribLive.

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