Middlebury’s Isley Library seeking $9.6 million for big expansion

MIDDLEBURY — Ilsley Public Library trustees have hired a consultant to determine how much money could be raised locally to underwrite a major expansion and renovation of the library — a project tentatively estimated at around $9.6 million.
The board’s decision to commission a fundraising feasibility study comes on the heels of a newly released report that recommends removing the library’s two most recent additions and erecting a new, 14,000-square-foot structure onto the back of the original, 1924 Ilsley building.
The new addition and related renovations would give the library — now a veritable hodgepodge of deficient, mismatched spaces jammed into a 19,000-square-foot, three-level building — a net gain of 6,600 square feet and produce a more user-friendly facility, according to gbA Architecture & Planning, which authored the report.
“Removal of these additions was an agonizing, but finally unanimous, decision driven by the limitations of the earlier additions, the tight building site, the goal to provide a solution that will serve the needs of the community for 50-100 years, and a commitment to invest the community’s resources in a long-term, comprehensive solution, rather than in partial alterations,” gbA officials concluded in their 61-page report, which included a study of Ilsley’s current facilities and considered feedback from a variety of library stakeholders.
It was in 2007 that then-Ilsley Director David Clark helped create a strategic plan for the library that suggested the need for 5,600 square feet of new library space. Clark pointed out that, among other things, the library is lacking in separate, dedicated spaces serving young children and older youths. The children’s library is now located in the basement.
“Children are a major driver of this project,” current Ilsley Director Kevin Unrath said.
The gbA consultants identified a lengthy list of library needs, including:
•  Four distinct, age-appropriate spaces that are “unobstructed, well ventilated, safe and naturally lit.”
•  Safe, inviting at-grade entrances from Main Street and the rear parking area that are within sight of the circulation desk.
•  Efficient, reliable HVAC system to provide mechanical ventilation (there is none now) and to replace the various heating systems and “10 problematic air conditioning” units.
•  Enhanced spaces for computers, digital instruction and media lab with updated wiring.
•  A modern, efficient elevator.
•  Adequate, safe public restrooms.
•  A larger community meeting room free of moisture problems, served by an entrance within sight of the staff, with a ceiling high enough to project video and cinematic materials effectively, and fully wired for technology.
•  Modern and expanded wiring for technology throughout the building.
•  Accessible, more visible space for Middlebury Community Television and the media lab. MCTV is now based in the Ilsley attic. The gbA plan calls for MCTV and the media lab to relocate to the basement.
•  Improved, efficient lighting throughout the library.
•  An assortment of spaces for quiet reading and small group meetings.
•  Greater storage for children’s materials and janitorial supplies.
Consultants are recommending a solution that calls for demolition of the 1977 and 1988 additions, followed by waterproofing around the 1924 building foundation. The new, 14,000-square-foot addition would be built on vacant land between the rear of the library building and the municipal parking lot — which would not lose any spaces.
That new addition, according to gbA officials, would “respect the historic nature and prominence of the original structure and its gardens.” It would feature ample windows for natural light that would shine on library workers and patrons — including a new children’s area on the second floor.
Plans also call for two grade-level access points to the library; the grand staircase entrance off of Main Street would remain.
Longtime Ilsley Trustee John Freidin is leader of the library’s building committee.
“After studying the needs of Ilsley, listening to local citizens, and thoroughly assessing a variety of potential solutions, (the) Library Building Committee unanimously agreed that the enclosed proposal is by far the best, and perhaps the only wise and practical way to proceed,” he said.
He acknowledged the significant scope and price tag of the project, but believes its need can be justified.
“The extent of this project is driven by the needs of children and young adults in our community,” he said. “There is no way to meet those needs within the existing building.
“Even if Ilsley could accommodate the children’s and young adult programs within the existing building — which it clearly cannot — Ilsley would need to replace the building’s heating and cooling systems, install a mechanical air circulation system, relocate and install a new elevator, build additional bathrooms, seal the foundation of the original building against water leakage, create a new at-grade entrance, improve computer access, and create 6,000 square feet of additional space,” he added.
Ilsley trustees, the building committee, and gbA will hold another public meeting as soon as this fall to explain the project and solicit more input.
Middlebury-area residents aren’t likely to see library work start for several years, according to Unrath. The fundraising feasibility study must play out, followed by the solicitation of funds and a decision on whether the financing package will have to include a bond vote. Ilsley officials have vowed to pursue any grants that might help defray the project costs.
With funding in hand, the project will need to go through final design, permitting, a bidding process and then construction.
Unrath will not be on board to bring the project to fruition. As reported by the Addison Independent, he will soon become top administrator at Shelburne’s Pierson Library — which is also pursuing an expansion plan of its own.
He will remain keenly interested in the Ilsley’s expansion efforts.
“I believe this plan will meet the needs of the library going forward for the next 100 years,” he said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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