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Middlebury selectboard supports effort to upgrade Ilsley Library

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard on Tuesday pledged its support for the task of renovating and expanding the Ilsley Public Library, though the panel stopped short of endorsing the tentative $9.6 million price tag an architectural firm has affixed to the construction job.
Ilsley Library trustees have been looking for an official vote of support from the selectboard prior to approaching prospective big donors and intensifying their search for a new library director. Former Ilsley Library Director Kevin Unrath recently stepped down to take the helm of Shelburne’s Pierson Library. Unrath, according to trustees, was a good advocate for the Ilsley project, and they hope to recruit a replacement with the experience to further advance the plan.
That plan, developed by gbA Architecture & Planning, calls for 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 addition and related renovations would give the library a net gain of 6,600 square feet and produce a more user-friendly facility, according to project planners.
Trustees said their aim is to break ground on the project by 2023 or 2024, which would coincide with the Ilsley’s 100th birthday.
It’s a project designed to better accommodate the community’s growing demand for library services and correct a series of heating/ventilation, accessibility and layout deficiencies within the aging structure.
Trustees have already held a few public meetings to explain the proposed project and solicit feedback. They see the hiring of a new library director as a key next step.
“That person is extremely likely to want to know that the project is really going to happen — or is very likely to happen,” trustee John Freidin, leader of the Ilsley’s project planning committee, told the selectboard on Tuesday. “If I were younger, I would be very interested in this job myself. But I wouldn’t be interested in the job if I hadn’t gotten a clear sign it was likely to happen.”
Freidin, flanked by other trustees, asked for an on-the-record vote by the selectboard to send that message.
It took some time for board members to cobble together a statement that would show tacit support for a building project, but not necessarily at the suggested $9.6 million. They stressed the importance of Ilsley leaders finding other funding sources — such as grants and gifts — to minimize the financial impact on local property taxpayers.
“Any reluctance on my part is about the funding,” Selectwoman Heather Seeley said.
Board members noted they have supported previous efforts to further planning for the Ilsley project. For example, they agreed to use some town resources to partially fund an upcoming feasibility study into how much money could be raised locally for construction.
“We like what you’ve done so far and we hope you have the means to do it,” Selectman Victor Nuovo said.
“I feel really confident that we are all in it together in what we have committed to so far,” Selectwoman Susan Shashok added.
Selectman Nick Artim, attending the meeting remotely from Virginia, encouraged trustees to ultimately hire whom they considered to be the best possible manager of the library, regardless of his or her ability to shepherd a building project.
“One of the reasons the Ilsley is so loved is because it is so well run,” Artim said.
After a half-hour of debate, the selectboard backed a project endorsement statement offered by Freidin:
“The selectboard supports the Ilsley trustees’ building and renovation proposal and encourages them to proceed.”
“Let the record show there is no commitment on funding, but we support the work the trustees and the library building committee have done,” selectboard Chairman Brian Carpenter added.
Freidin and his fellow Ilsley trustees were happy with the compromise.
“Thank you very much,” he told the board. “We will go to work.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]

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