BOSTON -- With two elementary school-age kids of his own, Tim Wakefield understands the importance of reading and how it lays the foundation for education.
That's why Tuesday morning, the former Red Sox knuckleballer was on hand to help open the Joseph Hurley K-8 School's brand new library, funded by Target's School Library Makeover program and the Heart of America Foundation.
"States are now looking at third-grade reading levels to determine how many prison cells they should have," said Wakefield. "That really hits home with everybody -- to be able to educate students at this young of an age on the importance of reading. I'm going through that with my third-grader son now … it's very important to learn how to read, because that's the basis of everything in education."
This was the 184th school library Target has helped renovate since 2007, and by the end of this year, that number will reach 200. It's the sixth in the Boston area.
Target has partnered with Major League Baseball and PEOPLE to celebrate teachers who have made an impact on the lives of their students. Because of this, Target reached out to Wakefield to help unveil the new library.
Wakefield was one of baseball's most charitable players during his career and still is in retirement. The Red Sox nominated him for the Roberto Clemente Award, which goes to the player who best reflects the spirit of giving back to the community, eight times as a player. He won the award in 2010, and in 2013, was named honorary chair of the Red Sox Foundation.
"I see the importance of education first-hand with the Red Sox Scholars program that the foundation does," Wakefield said. "So I can see the correlation of these two programs."
Suffolk Construction did major work to the Hurley School library in just a month, putting in a brand new reception-style desk, painting the walls, installing shelves and more. In addition to the physical renovation, the school received 2,000 new books, 25 iPads, an interactive white board, new tables and new chairs. Each of the 340 students were given seven books to take home for themselves and their siblings, as well.
The state nearly took over the Hurley School in 2007 because of low proficiencies on standardized tests. About half the student body is English language learners. When principal Marjorie Soto arrived nine years ago, just 40 percent of the students read at or above their grade level. That number has since climbed to 83 percent, and she's determined to get it to 100 soon.
"We were always a bridesmaid, and never a bride," said Soto, who saw that school get passed over by the state and district for funding in the last several years. "So I was ecstatic. I did all I could do not to cry."
Glenn Straughn, a Target store manager in Watertown, Mass., and the district's Community Leader, said the criteria for choosing which school gets a new library changes year to year. Target wanted to reward the Hurley School and its staff for the successes and improvements it has made in the last decade.
One of the themes Target wanted to find this year was "doing a lot with a little," and some representatives from Boston's district said to look no further than the Hurley School. And even after finishing the renovations, Target volunteers revisit the schools and continue to maintain the libraries.
Tuesday, each class in the school got a five-minute tour of the new library after Wakefield, Soto and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said a few words to thank those who made the renovation possible. They cut a ceremonial ribbon, as well.
More than 120 Target employees from New England-area stores volunteered at the school Tuesday. They helped put the finishing touches on the renovations by setting up the library's furniture, painting pictures to hang and more.
A design team from Target planned the layout of the library, but they also held a focus group with the school's students several months ago to gauge their interests and needs. Keeping librarian Jen Varney was first on their list because of the aid she gives to students, not just with finding books, but with research and projects.
"We needed a space where kids can choose what they want to read," Varney said. "It's a place where there's always books for them and where they can always go and be comfortable being who they are."
Steven Petrella is an associate reporter for MLB.com.