Behind the $3.6 Million Lifeline from Lenfest to Library at Wilson College

Wilson College alumna Marguerite Lenfest recently put $3.6 million toward the renovation of the school’s John Stewart Memorial Library. Lenfest's gift will pay to demolish a section of the library that had fallen into disrepair, and update the facility to accommodate the needs of contemporary college students. The 262-acre Presbyterian college located in Chambersburg, PA, called for help to save the library with a $12.5 million fundraising drive back in February.

A heating system malfunction forced the 90-year-old building to close its stacks in 2011. The steam heat on which the facility relied had corroded its piping. Speaking with Billboard Magazine, library director Kathleen Murphy explains that the steam was "running in the walls instead of in the pipes."

Beyond steam corrosion, the facility had other issues. Some argued that Stewart reflected an antiquated view of an academic library's responsibility on campus and catered toward staff over students; it went underutilized as a result. Given the amount of money required to fix the heating problem, combined with its waning popularity as a campus destination, the expenditure required to restore the library only made sense to Wilson's administration as part of a larger overhaul.

Personnel at Stewart knew about the heating problem for years, but only recently did it become serious. Murphy hopes the library's closure will draw administrative attention to other nearby structures on campus that were "built in the same period and [are] now having the same heating problems."

Marguerite, the donor of the $3.6 million, runs the Lenfest Foundation with her husband out of suburban Philadelphia. The Lenfests have been giving to Wilson for over a decade. They donated $10 million to support the college's science department in 2007. In 2002, the campus opened the $4.2 million Lenfest Commons on money from the couple. The Herald Mail calls the Commons a "community center, featuring a common gathering area, expanded school store, post office and student offices."