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Community Forum: Ilsley officials seek feedback

This week’s writers are Catherine Nichols, president of the Ilsley Board of Trustees, and John Freidin, Ilsley Trustee and chair of Middlebury Library Building Committee.
On behalf of the Ilsley Board of Trustees and the nine Middlebury residents who served on the Middlebury Library Building Committee, we invite you to a public meeting at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 13, in the Ilsley Community Room to hear from our architects and discuss the needs and goals of our community for its beloved public library.
Over the past week many excellent questions and comments were published in the Addison Independent and on Front Porch Forum about the proposed renovation and addition to Ilsley Public Library. This as it should be. It is a public project to serve the residents of Middlebury and surrounding towns. We hope to fund 50 to 60 percent of this project with private, philanthropic contributions.
Since 1988, when the most recent addition was completed, usage of the library has doubled. Now 170,000 persons use Ilsley every year. Our library ranks among the top five statewide in visits, circulation, program attendance and public computer usage. We are in the top 5 percent nationally of 1,395 libraries of comparable size.
The Ilsley building consists of three parts, none of which has been updated since it was built. The original building was constructed 94 years ago; the southern addition, which contains the elevator, two public toilets, and a staircase, was built 40 years ago; and the northern addition, which houses the Community Room, adult stacks, adult computer area, and reference room, was built 30 years ago. All three parts are structurally sound, but each poses significant issues.
For the past three years the Library Building Committee — appointed jointly by the Middlebury selectboard and Ilsley Trustees — has conducted a written survey of citizens’ views; listened to residents in large and small groups; heard from Ilsley staff and library consultants; visited other libraries; and asked itself questions nearly identical to those posed this past week. Below are the questions the committee thought were essential to making a worthy recommendation. We invite you to ask them of yourself — and tell us what you think by writing to the library at 75 Main St. and coming to our Sept. 13 meeting.
1)  Should the children’s library be moved from the basement where it suffers from water leaks and mold; where steel posts obscure lines of sight; where, when a new book is purchased, an existing book must be discarded; where there is little natural light; where an unobserved entrance is steps from young children; and where there is insufficient space for different age groups to participate in appropriate programs separately?
2)  Should there be an at-grade, accessible entrance within sight of the Circulation Desk? Another from Main Street?
3)  Should shelving enable all patrons to reach both the highest and lowest books and videos?
4)  Should the failing elevator be replaced? Should it be moved to a more central location?
5)  Should the library replace its antiquated heating system that requires expensive maintenance and heats the building unevenly?
6)  Should the library replace its 10 problematic air conditioners that often fail and do not cool the building evenly?
7)  Should the library expand by 6,500 square feet to provide more space for children and high school students and to enhance spaces for computer users, digital instruction, and the media lab?
8)  Do we need additional quiet, small meeting places?
9)  Should the Community Room be larger, have a higher ceiling to accommodate movies and videos, and be able to be reconfigured into multiple spaces of different sizes?
10) Should Ilsley have more than its current two public toilets, which are in the basement, in poor repair, and are often used improperly?
11) Should Ilsley have a mechanical ventilating system and windows that work?
12) Should Ilsley seal the foundation of the original structure, which is currently allowing water to leak into the Children’s Library and Community Room?
13) Should Ilsley be moved to a different location, where a single story structure could be built and there is plenty of parking?
With the exception of Question 13, the committee answered all the questions with a yes. It then worked with architects Gossens Bachman of Montpelier and assessed three distinct proposals to determine the most practical and structurally flexible building that could achieve these goals and accommodate evolving needs. The architects’ report has been unanimously endorsed by the five Ilsley Trustees and is available at http://tinyurl.com/ya8dwvq7. We encourage you to read it.
And we look forward to your joining us on Sept. 13 at 7 p.m.

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