Expansion, renovation plan seeks to lift Isley: Proposal could cost up to $10 million

MIDDLEBURY — A proposed renovation and expansion of Middlebury’s Ilsley Library was unveiled at Tuesday’s selectboard meeting that would remove two older additions and increase the library’s square footage from around 19,000 square feet to more than 25,000 square feet.
It would also, according to Ilsley Library Building Committee representative John Freidin, solve critical space needs, especially for children’s and youth programs and technology offerings; fix water filtration problems; create safer, more accessible and welcoming entries; retain all parking and keep Ilsley’s 170,000 annual visitors downtown; fix dated heating and ventilation systems; and enhance the original 1924 building’s architecture.
The addition as proposed would include ground-level entry plazas at both the front and rear that could be monitored from the circulation desk, include extensive glass to offer natural light inside the structure, offer one central elevator, create a larger children’s area with secure entries and a community room with modern technology, move the computer room and Middlebury Community Television offices to the basement, and establish “appropriate new spaces for teens and tweens.”
The catch:
The project could cost up to $10 million.
That’s according to the seven-page committee report that was three years in the making and that Freidin read to the board on Tuesday. This was the committee’s preferred one option of three in the report.
“Everyone on the committee was surprised by the cost of this project, but nevertheless convinced that lesser solutions would be ‘throwing good money after bad,’” the report stated.
Freidin himself and the report both said the price tag — which he said includes all fixtures, furnishings and equipment, plus a 10 percent contingency — could be lowered.
The report stated, “The committee hopes to decrease the cost of Option No. 3 by 10 percent,” and Freidin told the selectboard, “The committee has charged the staff with squeezing this plan.”
The committee was not charged with investigating how to finance the project, but the topic often came up. Members said they hoped a capital campaign, support from foundations, and a town bond could combine to fund the effort.
Selectboard members, while praising the committee’s hard work, took no position on the plan, which would remove additions on the south side (primarily an elevator and staircase), and the north side and rear, which include the library’s existing community room, book stacks and a computer area for adults, and a reference room.
Selectwoman Heather Seeley asked Freidin why the committee was surprised by the cost. Freidin cited in particular the costs of heating and ventilation, bathrooms and secure entries.
“We didn’t know how expensive it was to build libraries,” Freidin said. “Libraries are much more expensive than other buildings.”   THIS VIEW FROM Main Street shows a street-level entrance to the Ilslely that a $10 million renovation and addition would bring to the Middlebury institution.
Selectboard Chairman Brian Carpenter said before Ilsley backers sought financial support for the project they should run their plan by the town’s planning commission and development review board to make sure it would meet zoning standards, something he said would also help fundraising.
“I think we need to have that discussion,” Carpenter said.
Seeley wanted to make sure that a final project, if proposed and approved, carried the Ilsley far into the future.
“Let’s make sure we’re getting what we need to get us a significant time forward,” Seeley said.
According to the report from the seven-member committee, Ilsley is the busiest Vermont library among those “with comparable budgets,” ranking first in “visits, circulation, program attendance and public computer usage.” Also, the report states that “Nationally it ranks 59th of 1,395 comparable libraries” in usage.
Among problems, the report lists:
•  “The entire perimeter of the original structure needs to be excavated and waterproofed.”
•  The library is “inefficient” and lacks needed modern flexibility due to “fixed walls and stacks, low ceilings, and omnipresent support columns (that) make reconfiguration difficult and expensive.”
•  “Ilsley has three entrances, and only one is within sight of staff person. 70 percent of our patrons use the side entrance, which is far removed from staff and just steps from the children’s library.”
•  The children’s area “suffers from ground water leaks, mold and a broken wastewater system that causes offensive odors. The area has little natural light; is cramped; lacks clear lines of sight that should enable staff and parents to see what children are doing; (and) is located steps from an unobserved entrance and exit.”
•  “There is NO space dedicated to the needs and interests of either teens or tweens. Every library we visited had wonderful areas for these age groups.”
•  While Ilsley has an adequate number of public computers for adults, they … are located where they interfere with other patrons. They should be relocated and reconfigured.”
•  “Ilsley has no mechanical ventilating system, which state law requires when undertaking a major renovation. The building has 10 separate, often problematic A/C units, a boiler at the end of its lifespan, and two over-aged heating systems … that continually need maintenance.”
•  “The community room hosts 12,000 users a year … (and) lacks ventilation; suffers from wetness; and has no natural light. Its entrance is out of sight of the staff. Its ceiling is too low to show video and cinematic material effectively. Technological wiring in the room is out-of-date.”
•  “Ilsley has only two public restrooms, both on the basement level … Each existing restroom accommodates just a single user, which enables nefarious uses and vandalism.”
•  “The entire building needs to be re-wired for technology — and probably electricity.”
•  “Ilsley lacks sufficient quiet spaces with adequate lighting, ventilation, power supplies, and Internet access for silent study.”
•  “The adult stacks are both too high and too low for many patrons to reach.”
The committee considered two other options.
Option No. 1 would have removed the 1977 elevator/staircase addition and added an 8,650-square-foot addition on the east (parking lot) side, at a estimated cost of $8.4 million.
The committee rejected this option in part because it would not create accessible entry from Main Street or enhance the original building, and it would require two elevators and reduce parking.
Option No. 2 called for a new library elsewhere in town, possibly near Mary Hogan School, the new gymnasium, or in South Village, at an estimated cost of $12 million.
The committee acknowledged this option would “alleviate the squeeze on downtown parking and be closer to the schools and most residences.” But the report stated, “there was no enthusiasm for such a move, no idea of what to do with the existing building, and no expectation that this option would save the town money.”
The report states the preferred option would, in addition to other positives, be the “most likely to attract significant donor support.”
On Tuesday, Freidin concluded his presentation with a statement of support for the project.
“If this comes to fruition, I would be enormously proud to have become a small part of this,” he said. “It would be an enormous benefit to the town.”

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