New architectural drawings—depicting a more practical, welcoming, light-filled library—were revealed this week to members of the library board of trustees.
“The library building was designed 30 years ago and times have changed drastically,” said board chairman Mark A. Wiklund after distributing copies of the plans to board members on Tuesday, August 13. “Our goal is to maximize space by reorganizing what’s going on inside.”
Toward that end, the architect—with feedback from library staff and patrons—has envisioned wide open sitting areas, a technology counter with plentiful outlets, an enlarged children’s area that looks out on the woods, bathrooms that are accessible to all, and a revamped patio where people can sit and have lunch.
“It will not be so modern and space age that it turns you off, but it will have a nice contemporary feel,” Mr. Wiklund told the trustees.
The design for the 18,000-square-foot building also shortens the book stacks; rearranges existing areas; creates new rooms for reading and socializing; and opens up the building to maximize natural light and views.
“It was kind of like working with a Rubik’s cube,” architect David L. King said in 2017 when he first revealed his vision for renovating the red brick building on Main Street. “We are not going to do any major construction; it’s really a matter of moving everything around until it fits.”
The Boston-based architectural firm has since updated the concept and is currently working on revised cost estimates for Town Manager George H. (Bud) Dunham.
Estimates for the library work and a new senior center will be presented to the board of selectmen on August 29. Representatives from the library and the council on aging will also formally unveil the architectural plans for their respective buildings at that meeting.
If the selectmen approve both projects, the proposals will be placed on the warrant for a Special Town Meeting in October.
A preliminary estimate of $3 million had been floated for the library renovation, but since the original estimates in 2017, the library has already undertaken some improvements. They include new doors for the entrances from the parking lot, replacing the air conditioning, heating system, elevator, and replacing worn flooring and carpeting on the first floor.
Revised plans for the senior center—tentatively named the Center for Active Living—have not yet been made public. Preliminary estimates for the senior center have ranged from $8 to $10 million.
Although the selectmen would be asking residents to allow the town to borrow the money for the projects, that money would not be repaid by raising taxes. The money would come from alternative sources, under a financial plan worked out by Mr. Dunham and his financial team.
The alternative sources include anticipated revenue from the pending short-term rental tax, annual payments from the power plant, and proceeds from the sale of town buildings
The revised library design moves the archive area from the Dodge Macknight Room to what is currently the back half of the children’s room. The current Macknight Room space will house a seating area that will be open to the public and available for special events and group activities, said library director Joanne L. Lamothe.
The new children’s area will almost triple in size and moves across the building nearer to the restrooms.
A newspaper-reading and socializing area, complete with a coffee machine, would be located just inside the entrance from the parking lot. The reference room would moved back toward the current children’s area, near the Main Street entrance.
The “tech bar” where people can use the library’s computers or their own devices, will also be located near the Main Street entrance, according to the plans.
The downstairs area would also be renovated and fitted with electronics to allow sound and videos and other screen presentations to audiences. Soundproof panels will allow different groups to hold meetings simultaneously, and the bathrooms will be accessible for people with disabilities, Ms. Lamothe said during an impromptu tour on Wednesday afternoon.
The redesign would optimize light from the many windows along the back of the building.
The plan envisions a staff area that would stay in its current location but would be slightly larger and provide more privacy. The middle of the first floor would still be home to the main book stacks, but the stacks will be shorter and less dense to make the building more accessible and allow views of the entire floor, Mr. Wiklund said.
Solid walls and staircases will be replaced with glass, and a big round window will grace one interior wall of the children’s area.
“It will be less fortress-y,” Ms. Lamothe added. “You’ll be able to see across the library.”
The book collection would be culled by 30 to 50 percent to accommodate the new design, but patrons will still have access to more than 2 million titles through the interlibrary loan system, and have an almost infinite number of titles available online, Ms. Lamothe said.
The architects and library officials have said repeatedly that the plans are extremely preliminary and that flexibility is the key to the library’s future success. Some rooms, like the teen reading and computer areas, can be closed off and used for various purposes weekday mornings when teens are not usually using the library.
The library board, which for many years has unsuccessfully sought a new location for the library, came up in 2017 with the far less expensive proposal to renovate its existing building at 142 Main Street.
“It will be a very welcoming, accessible space,” Mr. Wiklund said. “People will walk in and say, ‘Wow, I want to stay here.’”