Andrew Carnegie’s Homestead library, music hall and athletic facility has been a community center since it opened in 1898.

Now, 126 years later, its leaders, staff, board and volunteers work to ensure that important responsibility not only continues but also thrives with major building renovations and programming that aims to meet 2024 patrons’ current and future needs.

In turn, the community has embraced the Carnegie of Homestead projects, realizing the contributions that enhance learning, wellness and quality of life within the four Steel Valley boroughs and beyond that it serves has exceeded Carnegie’s vision for one of his original libraries.

This was evident last weekend during a sale of the old first-floor wooden seats, original to the building and a factor in the excellent music hall acoustics. Designed for the then average American, 5-foot-10 and around 150 pounds, the seats had been — to put it kindly — losing popularity, according to a Rivers of Steel October 2023 website article.

Up to 400 seats removed from the first floor — priced at two for $50 and four for $100 — had been lined up and ready for patrons on Saturday and Sunday. But by 2:30 p.m. the first day, all had been sold, Executive Director Carol Shrieve said. She said they believed the sale would appeal to local residents, but concertgoers traveled from Cranberry and Washington, Pa., and beyond to buy them. One person bought a seat with plans to ship it to Clarion.

Carnegie of Homestead’s Carol Shrieve’s son, Cullen, pitches in and helps move out seats before last weekend’s sale. (Carnegie of Homestead)

Shrieve said installation of the new seats — they have some padding on their wooden frames that have other ornate touches — began right away, and on Friday morning, workers concentrated on the new flooring that will anchor them. 

She said the first floor will still have 587 regular seats and ADA compliant seats for a total of 595. Floor-track lighting will be installed so patrons don’t stumble in the dark entering rows or leaving their seats. Other work includes new carpeting and flooring, painting and additional fire protection.

The concert schedule is dark for the eight weeks needed to finish it all, and it will begin again with an Eagles tribute band concert on Aug. 10.

Next year the balcony seats will be replaced, and the project, Shrieve said, will mirror this one with another eight-week break in programming.

The seat replacement has been part of the big dream for the library, its athletic facility and music hall for years, and it is one component of a $14 million to $17 million capital campaign that began in 2017. “It was broken into four phases, and fundraising is done in stages,” Shrieve explained.

“We were approached by a foundation interested in funding renovations in our music hall, and it set us on a journey to carefully plan an overall restoration campaign,” she explained.  “After a well thought out vetting process, we selected the firm MCF Architecture to spearhead our overall plan. MCF had been integral not only in renovating Heinz Hall and the Benedum but also in a small theater in Vandergrift, the Casino Theater. Their scalability caught our eye, and we knew they were the perfect partner to help us preserve this wonderful historic gem.”

Carnegie’s libraries in Braddock and Duquesne also had music halls, pools and athletic facilities, but according to the Rivers of Steel article, of those original libraries and all the U.S. Carnegie libraries, Homestead is the only one still running in every capacity.

The capital campaign’s first $4.7 million phase completed in 2020 included: reconstruction of one of the building’s grand marble stairways to remove physical barriers for wheelchair users between the library and music hall; removal of the second marble stairwell for a wheelchair-accessible elevator in the music hall lobby and construction of an exterior ADA entrance that matched the building’s front entrances; additions of new pool locker rooms and an accessible family restroom with up-to-date showers, lockers and changing areas, and a wheelchair accessible entrance to the pool; and much-needed electrical upgrades, lower-level plumbing upgrades, a new generator, a new fire pump, fire protection system, and the foundation for new sprinklers throughout the facility.

This second $9.1 million phase began this year, Shrieve said, after two years of fundraising. The music hall portion is $6.8 million, and an additional $3 million is still needed to cover it all. The library’s portion – $ 2.3 million – is fully funded.

The library project encompasses renovation of the library “stacks” area, installation of sensory-friendly meeting spaces and an archive room, air conditioning, new carpeting, upgraded restrooms, and exterior waterproofing and stair repairs, according to its website.

Carnegie of Homestead Executive Director Carol Shrieve with a prototype of the new chairs for the music hall. The final is different, but the wood exterior calls to mind the original seats. (Helen Fallon/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Shrieve, who grew up in Munhall using the library and now lives 1 mile from her family home, joined the library board in 2006 when it faced major financial challenges. She became executive director in 2008, following 20 years of marketing and manufacturing management experience, and transitioned into working in the nonprofit sector.

The board she joined was a working board; because of financial downturns, it laid off the executive director.

“To make budgets balance, the board had been tapping into the library’s endowment,” she explained. If that had kept up, she said, “We would have had to close our doors in 12 years.”

When she accepted the library’s leadership position, “I didn’t look at the work [that needed to be done]. I looked at how beautiful this place is.”

Having a beautiful, historic building is one thing. Taking care of it and raising funds to do that is another.

Booking music hall concerts — Patti Smith was the first performer, on Aug. 1, 2007, according to the Rivers of Steel article — provided much needed revenue. But important upgrades and then moving on to the board, staff and community’s wish list of improvements, required more.

Shrieve and her board successfully pushed for a local library tax referendum in three of the four boroughs it serves — Homestead, West Homestead and Munhall. Then the board hired a nonprofit financial consultant. The result? “We went from being in the red to the black in 18 months,” Shrieve said.

It can still draw down on the endowment Carnegie established, but she said the board has only had to dig into it during the pandemic. The other improvement: It grew from $1 million to $2.8 million.

The music hall started with about 30 concerts a year. Now its agent, Drusky Entertainment, booked 85 last year, accounting for 40% of the facility’s budget. And that’s key, realizing that the artists take 98% of ticket sales. What helps the library is its bar, staffed by volunteers.

“We’re the only library that has a liquor license. Wine sells well here,” she said. A pool lifeguard doubles as the coordinator for the 70 volunteers. “It runs like a well-oiled machine.”

Carnegie of Homestead Executive Director Carol Shrieve on the new floor of the music hall. (Helen Fallon/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

The library has two large meeting spaces called the billiards and shuffleboard rooms in recognition of their original uses. Elected officials, residents, schools and more rent those, and Shrieve said they are booked nearly every day. Workers uncovered the original shuffleboard grid in their work. The plan, she said, is, “We want to bring it back, make it beautiful again.”

Shrieve took a sabbatical several years back and thought through these big fundraising goals. The staff took over 95% of her duties, and “I came back with a vision,” she said.

She exudes passion for her work in any conversation or presentation, and Shrieve easily rolls off statistics and program details and the facility’s contributions to the communities.

For example, Shrieve knows that 733 people come into the library each day, a number verified by people counters on the doors. They subtract 10% to account for kids coming in and out several times. 

From an economic impact study, she knows that every 50 events at the music hall brings $1 million into the local economy through its restaurants, hotels, shops and more. For every $1 spent on a concert ticket, that translates into a gain of $12. She plans to conduct a new study soon to ascertain progress.

The area served has expanded to include West Mifflin, Duquesne and Pittsburgh communities across the Homestead Grays bridge. “People come in to use the athletic facility or to bring their children in for programs and end up checking out a book,” she said.

Fittingly, the library’s portion of the work will ensure “the back entrance to the library is just as beautiful as the front,” she said. And the two meeting rooms to be included in the library’s stacks area will be sensory friendly, with ADA compatible computer stations that will enable access for all and a play area for patrons with very young children nearby.

 “It will be the only library in the county to have these types of rooms. All this is so it will be more workable for our families,” she said, noting it will provide privacy for patrons who reach doctors, social workers and others via the library’s computers.

The library’s archive — they include materials and objects that display the facility’s and communities’ past glory — currently are not easily accessible. Patrons wanting to review them need to have a staff member’s direct oversight.  This will change, Shrieve said, with transformation of a supply closet to house them. The door will be glass so some of the materials — such as trophies — are visible, and circulation desk staff can remain there and provide assistance as needed.

Allegheny Construction Group is the library portion contractor. The rest the facility is self-managing with the help of board member Joseph Leonello, Franjo Construction managing partner and president. It hired its own contractors for the seats and the outside waterproofing and the external stair repairs.

Shrieve told an related anecdote about the last two. Arthur Ziegler, founder and president emeritus of Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, took a walk through the building alone. “He was so impressed by the way the building has been maintained that the PHLF gave the library an $80,000 gift for the exterior waterproofing and stair repairs. I had tears in my eyes when he told us. This work would have had to be in the next phase,” she said.

In addition to the PHLF, capital campaign donors include the National Endowment of Humanities, Congressionally Directed Federal Community Project Funding, Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, Keystone Grants for Public Library Facilities, Gaming Economic Development Tourism Fund, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Greenways, Trails and Recreation Program, Neighborhood Assistance Program, Regional Asset District, Hilda M. Willis Foundation, Hillman Family Foundation, Gismondi Family Foundation, Allegheny Foundation, Jack Buncher Foundation, Jefferson Regional Foundation, an anonymous donor, Edith Trees Charitable Trust, FISA Foundation, William V Campbell Educational and Community Foundation and Bridgeway Capital.

The Friends of the Library, who annually give $10,000 to $15,000 mainly through a spring comedy fundraiser, will cover the sensory furniture in the new stacks rooms. Donors have given to the campaign, too, via The Pittsburgh Foundation, and so have local Rotary and Lions clubs.

Shrieve said a development professional has been added to the staff who will help close the funding gap. Phase two is also possible because of a construction line of credit the facility has established. “I don’t want to go into debt,” Shrieve said.

Next up is envisioning the last two capital campaign phases.

High on the wish list is removing the massive old boiler in the basement to move the bar there and adding an accessible new performers’ green room. Replacing the music hall’s stage lighting, which dates to the 1980s, Shrieve said, is another.

Other priorities include installing new energy-efficient air conditioning in the music hall, purchasing RFID or Radio Frequency Identification headsets for those who are hard of hearing and hiring ASL interpreters for all events. So is adding more technology in the new sensory rooms to give patrons more privacy.

Back to those new seats: Patrons can help the campaign by sponsoring them. The $1,000 level is sold out, with few $750 donations remaining. Plenty of $250 seat designations remain, Shrieve said. 

That effort has raised $70,000 of the $200,000. But Shrieve remains optimistic they will reach that goal and the entire campaign. “We’ll just keep fundraising,” she said.

The Carnegie of Homestead library stacks area has been cleared out to add two new sensory rooms and improve the back entrance to the facility. (Carnegie of Homestead)

Helen is a copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but she's currently on strike. Contact her at

Helen Fallon

Helen is a copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but she's currently on strike. Contact her at