Teamwork gives Condit library a much-needed makeover

Envy gets a bad rap. Sure, it’s one of the seven deadly sins, and is generally considered an undesirable trait.

But every now and then it’s an emotion that can help to bring about something good. Consider what happened over the summer up at Condit Elementary School: At about the mid-point of last school year, Condit Parent Teacher Association President Valarie Jimenez was approached by a parent who had spent a few days as a substitute teacher at nearby Sumner Danbury Elementary, where she had occasion to visit the school’s library.

“She said, ‘We really need to do something about our library. I was over there and it’s beautiful. You come to Condit library and you don’t get that feel.’ I hadn’t really checked out [Condit’s] library before,” Ms. Jimenez said. “So I did and thought, ‘Well, maybe it could use a little something in here.’”

Energized, she approached librarian Laurie Christenson, who is in her 21st year at Condit. The modest library hadn’t been fully updated—aside from new carpets, wall décor, the occasional computer upgrades and of course, new books—since she took the job.

The pair worked out a plan to reimagine the space, and Ms. Jimenez sent out the call for volunteers to paint, plaster, move furniture and decorate over the summer. Workforce secured, they then approached Condit’s PFA with their idea to spruce up the space. The PFA was supportive, and approved a $6,000 grant for the project.

Work began June 19, just a few days after school ended. About a dozen volunteer Condit parents and Ms. Christenson finished (“On time and on budget,” joked Ms. Jimenez) the makeover August 28, the day before classes resumed.

The crew rearranged, painted, replaced carpets, purchased comfortable cushions and pillows, redecorated, and after relocating a bank of computers to the school’s computer lab next door (Condit kids are all on iPads now), they lathed and plastered a whimsical tree around an existing power pole in the middle of the room.

The only outside labor used was a drywall crew hired to spruce up one wall.

“It was a lot of fun,” Ms. Christenson said. “We made some good friends.” The librarian also used the opportunity to rearrange books into genres. “Now, right when a kid comes in and says ‘I want a mystery book,’ I have a mystery book section. When they want historical fiction, I have a section for that.” 

Reaction from students was immediate and unequivocal. “They actually want to be here,” Ms. Christenson said. “They come in and get a book, find a spot and lay down and read a book. And that’s the whole point of everything we did, to encourage them to find a space and take the time.”

Ms. Jimenez received a thank you note from a teacher that included her recollection of a particularly enthusiastic customer.

“She said one child walked into the library and literally ran out, jumped into her arms and said, ‘Have you seen it? Have you seen it?’ He said the library was just so amazing and he was overjoyed. We’ve had students say that they feel like they’re in the Magic Tree House [the popular young readers series by Mary Pope Osborne]. The parents have come by and let us know they appreciate what we’ve done. The reception has been incredible.”

Condit Principal Christine Malally feels optimistic about the new space, knowing that students will feel more motivated to visit.

“The renovation has brought a new energy to the library, with its warm and welcoming environment,” she said. “As a school, we are so thankful and grateful to have the amazing group of families that donated their time and efforts.”

Kudos are also in order for those longtime staples of Claremont schools and civic life, the volunteers, Ms. Jimenez said.

“It would not have been successful without the incredible dedication and contributions from Paula and David Richardson and Ydolina and Jonathan Negus. Sandi Kaneko designed the floor plan for us. The book wall was completed by Amy Middleton.”

Ms. Jimenez has been involved with Condit’s PFA for seven years, and is in her second year as the group’s president. Her daughter is in second grade and she has a son in sixth.

The project was so gratifying it’s caused her to start thinking about what she and her group of volunteers might tackle next.

“There’s plenty left to do, that’s for sure,” she said. “We’re thinking and we’re hoping that we can move into the computer lab next and kind of revamp it too.”

The volunteers tackled the library as their first big project as a way to reach all students, regardless of grade level.

“Every single student at Condit is going to benefit from it, and that’s the way we feel about the computer lab as well: every single child has an opportunity to use it throughout the week, and we just want to give back to everyone,” Ms. Jimenez said.

Ms. Christenson’s son and daughter both attended Condit while she was librarian.

“Best job ever,” Ms. Christenson said. “They liked having me here. It was nice. It was good to be close by. We walked home after school. It was perfect.” Her kids both made their way through Claremont schools and have now graduated from college.

She’s justifiably thrilled with the long time coming revamp of her longtime workspace.

“It really is amazing to see how beautiful they made it,” she said, beaming. “We always made it work, the kids always had books, but now they have a beautiful place to enjoy them.”

—Mick Rhodes


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