RALEIGH (WTVD) -- Police say two teens were to blame for setting the Leesville Community Library on fire in February. The smoke and water damage was so great that Wake County had to close the Raleigh library for months to make repairs.
The repairs included restoring, removing and cleaning furniture and books, installing new carpet, replacing ceiling tiles, and much more. While those repairs were being made, patrons had to travel further to reach a public library.
After months of waiting, lots of happy regulars rushed to be the first inside for Saturday's Grand Reopening.
"Because then all the books are at the library and have not been checked out, so the books that are usually not there I can get. And, I don't have to wait five weeks on the wait list," explained an excited young Hannah Boyce.
Hundreds of people stopped by within the few first hours of the reopening. Patrons sat down for story time, hopped on the computers, and, of course, checked out books.
"I got 'Geronimo Stilton' books as I really like 'Geronimo Stilton,' it's my favorite," said little Kendall Taylor as she proudly displays two of her books.
"I got the same thing too, and I really want to read it because it looks so fun!," said Taylor's friend, Talia Hicks. "And I got 'Gilbert the Surfer Guy' and it looks cool."
The enthusiasm felt by patrons, young and old, is especially pronounced given the long wait for the library to reopen.
"Yeah, I come to the library a lot and I was sad when it got messed up," stated Nicole Rhoades.
"Yeah," echoes her friend Cailey Allison. The pair explained how they would come together to this very spot regularly before its doors had to temporarily close.
"I think the most exciting part for me, as a neighborhood, is that the Leesville school community is right across the street and all the kids are able to walk here after school and get their work done," Nicole's dad, John Rhoads said. "And [the kids] have access to computers, which some don't have at home."
Library Manager Ellen Guerci was thrilled to take the old "Coming Soon" sign that had been posted outside for the past six months and replace it with one that reads, "Now Open."
"I just felt a tremendous outpouring of support from the community," Guerci shares. "They missed their library they wanted to know when it was going to reopen."
Some of that support came from local 4th graders who contributed artwork, which now adorns the newly repainted walls. Those same students are to thank for watching the library's pet fish during renovations.
But now "Swimmy" the Beta fish is back home where he belongs, along with all the other resident bookworms.
"I'm reading the 'Never Girls: Far From Shore." It's like my favorite series," says a proud Abbie Taylor, displaying the first of many books she plans to check out from her beloved library.
In all, 46,000 books were saved from the fire, many of which ended up in the youth section. The library expanded the youth section as part of its renovations.
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Leesville Community Library reopens after arson