For the past several years, the Nicholas P. Sims Library Lyceum auditorium had restricted access to its upstairs facility. That’s all about to change.
The Lyceum auditorium was built with the library building in 1904 by Waxahachie artist and store painter, W.B. Reymuller. According to a Sims Library history pamphlet, the Lyceum seats 277 attendants, and each seat has a hat rack built-in underneath the fixture.
Library director Barbara Claspell explained that the Lyceum ceiling is pressed tin and painted in white, while the auditorium arch is made of plaster and painted by hand in gold leaf.
Claspell stated that the auditorium is a historic showpiece of the library that attracts a lot of tourism toward the facility.
“Some people like to go up there and just take tours,” Claspell explained. “It was built along with the original building.”
However, the library has been dealing with an accessibility issue with the Lyceum auditorium for the past several years. The only way to enter the auditorium on the top floor is through the marble staircases located at the building’s entrance. Library Board of Trustees president Steve Chapman stated that many handicapped and elderly persons don’t make it up to the Lyceum because of that inconvenience.
“It is tall, steep and impossible for some of the handicapped to escalate,” Chapman stated. “There is no real alternative for a handicapped person now. It is a beautiful auditorium, and very serviceable. But it’s so hard to get up there.”
Claspell herself struggles occasionally getting up the staircase and even had to catch her breath when she came upstairs to demonstrate the Lyceum to a visitor.
“The handicapped, senior citizens, moms who have strollers – none of them can get to our programs up there,” Claspell stated. “One of the petting zoos came one time and they had to carry the animals up. That’s a big haul.”
In hopes of easing the trek, the Sims Library administrative staff took proactive steps to resolve this issue alongside the City of Waxahachie this past week at City Hall. On Monday, the Waxahachie City Council approved a budget amendment from the city’s general fund to invest in a capital improvement project for the library.
The project will construct an elevator on the North side of the building which will provide access to the historic Lyceum, common areas, event space and additional restrooms on the second floor.
Chapman said the overall costs for the improvements are estimated to be $1.8 million. The city provided a little over a tenth of the construction costs by approving a $200,000 contribution towards the project.
City manager Michael Scott stated that the auditorium has been well preserved since its creation over a century ago. He said it’s in the city’s greater interest to invest in this development and help incorporate more of the community into the auditorium.
“That’s one of the best-kept secrets that Waxahachie has,” Scott stated. “Having an elevator will make it more accessible, and hopefully, we can utilize it in a lot more broader respect.”
Claspell stated she’s excited about the project and looks forward to seeing how the library could potentially expand its programs with the added improvements.
“Our program numbers have increased from 30 to the 80s and 90s,” she stated. "We have a lot of kids coming. That would help us to accommodate a lot of programming up there.”
Chapman stated that the library board would be meeting next Tuesday to discuss further fundraising efforts and library endowment funds the board can utilize for the project. Claspell estimated that the improvements would begin sometime in the fall and would last six to nine months.
“It’s been a dream,” she stated. “If we’re going to do it, now’s the time to do it.”
To learn how you can donate to the improvement project, call the library at 972-937-2671.