Middlebury weighs in on library’s future

ILSLEY PUBLIC LIBRARY officials have pitched four construction options to Middlebury town officials for meeting the library’s growing needs, from renovation of the existing building to building a new one. Photo courtesy of Ilsley Public Library

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury’s library of the future should provide better access to those with mobility issues, possess ample space for children and teens, offer outdoor programming space to ensure services during any future pandemics, and shouldn’t be heated using fossil fuels.

Those are just a few of the many priorities gleaned from the public during a recent series of feedback sessions held by the Ilsley 100 Project Team, which is plotting a major expansion and renovation plan for Middlebury’s 98-year-old library at 75 Main St. 

The building, according to library officials, has inadequate and poorly configured space that isn’t meeting the community’s service expectations; has low ceilings and support columns; has a poorly lit and under-sized children’s area that suffers from ground water leaks, mold and a broken wastewater system that causes offensive odors; needs better amenities for teens and ’tweens; and has areas and resources that aren’t accessible to some folks who are physically challenged.

The Ilsley 100 Project Team has been hard at work this year mapping out an improvement plan for the public library to meet patrons’ needs at a price taxpayers can afford. Ilsley officials have concluded the library needs to expand by roughly 6,000 square feet, to a total of 24,000 square feet. That would allow the facility to, among other things, double the space for children’s resources and programs, ensure safety and accessibility throughout the library, and offer additional meeting rooms, adequate work areas for library staff and storage, and more restrooms.

As a conversation-starter, officials have pitched four construction options for meeting the library’s needs:

• Renovate the Ilsley within its current footprint, while repairing its basement leak and deficient elevator and heating and ventilation system.

• Renovate and expand the current building onsite.

• Renovate the current building, but house some library programs and activities in a non-adjacent annex for more square footage. Officials have cited the long-vacant Ben Franklin building at 63 Main St. as a possible nearby annex worth investigating.

• Build a new library on the so-called Economic Development Initiative site, consisting of 1.42 acres of town-owned land off Bakery Lane, behind library.

Ilsley Library Executive Director Dana Hart announced late last week a consultant will soon provide estimates for each of the four options. Those estimates, along with insights into the numbers, will be publicly available in January, she said.

Meanwhile, the Ilsley 100 Project Team will digest the citizen feedback it received last month at four meetings that drew a total of about 80 people, according to Hart.

“A lot of (what we heard) was an affirmation we’re on the right track, and some of it was new and thought provoking,” Hart said of the comments, which will help shape the final project. Tentative plans call for a new series of meetings to present the cost estimates for the four building options, with the project team conveying its preference to the selectboard.

It remains unclear when Middlebury residents will face a referendum (likely a bond) on a library project.

Other library priorities voiced by attendees of the November meetings included:

• Keeping the Ilsley in its current location is important, as it’s a convenient walk for school children.

• Increase the use of the library space as an exhibit area.

• Make sure the space lets in a lot of natural light.

• More daytime programs for seniors should be offered.

• Ensure the continuation of Middlebury Community Television’s tenancy in, and partnership with, the Ilsley.

Hart was pleased to report children and teens are also weighing in on the possible transformation of their library. And some youngsters are thinking way outside of the box, with suggestions of a “secret passage” to the youth section and a tower component.

“To them, the library is already this magical place,” Hart said.

Middlebury selectboard Chair Brian Carpenter said he appreciates the Ilsley 100 Project Team’s hard work, and he’s also curious about the potential tax implications of a major library makeover.

“How do we survey and get a sense of what-sized project the community will support, and what they value when it comes to the dollars and cents that they place on it?” he asked.

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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