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New path to be set for Ilsley upgrades

THE ILSLEY LIBRARY Board of Trustees has decided to abandon a $9.6-million renovation-and-expansion plan for the historic building at 75 Main St., and instead explore other options for improving library facilities.

MIDDLEBURY — The Ilsley Library Board of Trustees on Monday voted to drop a $9.6-million renovation-and-expansion plan for the historic library building at 75 Main St. and instead explore other designs to address the institution’s space, configuration and condition problems.
“In a spirited discussion, the board debated the wisdom of proceeding with the existing plan which in 2018 had a putative price tag of $9.6 million, or to look at alternate design possibilities,” Ilsley Library Director Dana Hart told the Independent through a Tuesday email. “The alternate design possibilities were not specified, but it was understood that these might involve scaling back the project or possibly pursuing a different design altogether.”
The board voted 4-1, with Trustee John Freidin opposed, to pursue new design options. Trustees will plot the next steps in project planning at their annual retreat on Saturday, May 16.
Freidin explained his opposition in a Wednesday morning email.
“The proposed architectural concept meets all of Ilsley’s needs; can be easily re-configured in multiple ways; creates a unified building with architectural integrity; and reveals the full beauty of the original building. This concept was developed over three and a half years of study, public meetings, professional analyses, and painstaking examination of options to reduce its cost,” he wrote.
“The 7-person Library Building Committee voted unanimously in favor of it; the 5-person Ilsley Board of Trustees unanimously voted for it; and in October 2017 the 7-person selectboard unanimously approved the following language: ‘The Selectboard supports the Ilsley trustees’ building and renovation proposal and encourages them to proceed.’ It’s unrealistic to think that a significantly less costly concept will enable Ilsley to meet its needs. And I fear that it will inadvertently prevent Ilsley from doing so for decades.”
Hart put forth the majority point of view, that when trustees showcased the plan, it failed to gain traction — in large part due to the cost. It was one of the “primary motivating factors” in the board’s decision to re-set the project, according to Hart.
“We heard from the community that people are uncomfortable with the price tag,” she said. “We took a hard look at the projected bond votes and the town’s current bond obligations, and the cost was definitely a concern.”
The Ilsley Library was built in 1924 and has been added to through the years. It is the busiest Vermont library among those with comparable budgets, ranking first in visits, circulation, program attendance, and public computer use, according to a report compiled by the Ilsley Library Building Committee.
The well-trafficked building has major problems, according to trustees, with work needed that includes:
•  Waterproofing the entire perimeter of the original 1924 structure.
•  Modernizing the space, now characterized by fixed walls and stacks, low ceilings and support columns.
•  Upgrading a poorly lit children’s area that suffers from ground water leaks, mold, and a broken wastewater system that causes offensive odors.
•  Installing a service area for teens and ‘tweens; and improving and consolidating the building’s ventilation, boiler and heating systems.
Also, the structure needs to be rewired for technology and equipped with better restrooms, according to Ilsley leaders, who have been exploring a building improvement project for more than four years.
Burlington firm Gossens Bachman studied the Ilsley’s deficiencies and recommended a $9.6-million project that among other things called for removing the library’s two older additions and installing a new addition that would increase the building’s square footage from around 19,000 square feet to more than 25,000.
The proposed addition would have included ground-level entry plazas at both the front and rear that could be monitored from the circulation desk, extensive glass to offer natural light inside the structure, a central elevator, a larger children’s area with secure entries and a community room with modern technology, and a designated area for teen and ’tween patrons.
Trustees have yet to decide whether they’ll stick with Gossens Bachman or solicit a different architectural firm for the work. But Hart noted Gossens Bachman already has great knowledge of the Ilsley and its needs.
“I don’t think there’s plans right now to go out and hire a new architect,” she said. “There’s no desire on any trustee’s part to start from scratch and do away with all that (past work). We are in a great position because we can build on all the work that’s been done.”
Hart is pleased to see trustees once again immersed in planning for the library’s long-term capital needs.
“I’m very excited that the board made this decision, because I feel like now we will start moving forward more quickly and perhaps more aggressively than we have during the two years I have been here,” Hart said. “We do need renovations, certainly. The building isn’t getting better. We are addressing some deferred maintenance — for example, we recently got a grant to do some restoration on our historic windows. But there are other structural issues… that we can’t get a grant (to address).”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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