Ilsley Library makeover options range to $23M

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 — The four leading scenarios for upgrading Middlebury’s Ilsley Public Library to meet community expectations could run from $5.5 million to $23 million, according to a professional estimator.

Ilsley officials on Monday brought these very preliminary numbers to the Middlebury selectboard, which will have the final say on which library makeover option is offered to the public. After years of planning, library advocates are in the home stretch of combining their research with public input on a plan they hope will correct the many deficiencies in the 99-year-old Ilsley building at 75 Main St.

Current options on the table include renovating the library, renovating it while complementing it with an annex somewhere nearby, renovating and expanding the structure on site, or building a new structure.

The Ilsley 100 Project Team is now leaning toward either renovating/expanding on site or building new. While renovating the current building would be the cheapest (at $5.5 million), Ilsley advocates don’t believe that would be prudent.

“Ultimately we would just be putting a Band Aid on a flawed building, for our current purposes” said Joe McVeigh, chair of the Ilsley Library Board of Trustees. “We viewed our charge as not simply fixing the problems, but to be looking to the future needs of the town. It’s short-sighted approach to simply look at what we have now and not look down the road. It’s been 40 years since the last changes to the building — and at the time, those changes were projected to last for around 40 years, and I’m not sure they quite did.”

The Ilsley, according to library officials, has inadequate and poorly configured space that isn’t meeting the community’s service expectations. It 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.

An Ilsley 100 Project Team has been mapping out an improvement plan to meet patrons’ needs at a price taxpayers can afford. Officials have concluded the library needs to expand by roughly 6,000 square feet, to a total of 24,000. 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, offer additional meeting rooms, adequate work areas for library staff and storage, and more restrooms.


Ilsley officials contracted with estimator Henry Erickson of Warren to assign dollars to the four library makeover options. Here’s what he delivered:

• Option A — Renovating the library within its current footprint: $5.5 million. This would include replacement of aging mechanical, electrical, sprinkler and elevator systems; creating a second means of egress on the third level of the new building; and installation of a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.

Also included would be foundation work, some rearrangement of office and study spaces, new finishes, paint job, acoustic treatment and addition of a pavilion for outdoor programs.

While this option would preserve the 1924 building, it wouldn’t provide enough space for library programming, wouldn’t resolve accessibility issues and would require temporary relocation of Ilsley services during construction.

“It seemed like too much taxpayer money to not be achieving any of the community’s goals, just treading water in this building,” Ilsley Library Director Dana Hart said.

• Option B — Renovate and expand on site: $14.8 million. 

This would entail renovating and repairing the 1924 building while adding square footage in one or more locations for a total of 24,256 square feet. Portions of the 1977 and 1988 additions would be selectively demolished to make room for the expansion.

Such a project would preserve the 1924 building and meet current/future programming needs, but would require temporary relocation of library services and would reduce available space for outdoor programs.

• Option C — Renovate and add annex: $12.7 million. This would involve “Option A,” along with the purchase/renovation of an additional property with an existing structure. Some advocates have specifically cited the long-vacant, former Ben Franklin store at 63 Main St.

This solution would preserve the 1924 building, create new space for programming and provide a temporary refuge for library services during renovations. On the other hand, the dual sites would require duplication of services, more staff, increased maintenance costs, loss of property tax revenue from the Ben Franklin building and might require closure of Bakery Lane during construction.

McVeigh noted the Ben Franklin structure would at the very least need to be gutted, rewired, equipped with new lighting and outfitted with a stronger floor in order to be used as a library annex. There’s also the potential need for asbestos abatement, he said. All these factors would further affect the price of Option C.

“There was excitement on the project team to explore (Option C),” Hart said. “But ultimately, what we realized is that in order to make that work, we’d have to divide adult services from youth services, which would be programmatically horrible. It would really impact the library’s mission, would be divisive in the community, and would limit everyone’s ability to use the library… If it’s two separate buildings, either the kids are going to go to the library or the parents are; they’re not going to make two stops.”

• Option D — Reimagine and build new: $23 million.

This would entail erecting a new facility on a different site, with the town-owned “Economic Development Initiative (EDI)” property behind the Ilsley seen as a prime candidate.

“The library could become the anchor occupant within a potential mixed-use development including a parking structure, some commercial, and a potential for much-needed downtown housing or offices,” reads an Option D narrative provided by the Ilsley 100 Project Team.

The $23 million estimate reflects new construction for a two-level parking garage plus the library. It doesn’t include adaptive re-use costs or potential revenues from the existing library or other uses in a mixed-use development.

On the plus side, this option would allow for design of a structure to meet library needs well into the future. And there’d be no need for a temporary library spot during construction.

On the negative side, it could mean losing the 1924 building (while finding a buyer/tenant) and require enlisting a project partner willing to incorporate the library into their mixed-used development on the EDI parcel.

It should be noted that estimates for all four options include base construction costs (labor, material, etc.), fees and general conditions for the prime contractor, bonds and insurance for the contractor, contingency, escalation to cover the potential for inflation (over a one-year period), owner costs at 10%; and professional fees at 10%.

The estimates don’t include rental and moving costs for a temporary library location.

“We asked for ‘order of magnitude’ estimate,” McVeigh said. “Although we think the numbers (Erickson) came up with are pretty darned accurate, you’ve got to take them with a grain of salt, because they don’t represent a (building) design. We aren’t that far along.”

It should also be noted that the Ilsley’s client base extends well beyond Middlebury. The library now has 2,874 Middlebury cardholders and 919 non-resident cardholders, for a total of 3,793.

After receiving and considering community feedback, the project team will vote on which option to recommend to the selectboard.

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].


Middlebury-area residents will have a chance to learn more about — and provide feedback on — all four Ilsley Library building options at two public meetings next week:

• Tuesday, Jan. 17, at 7 p.m. in Ilsley’s community meeting room.

• Friday, Jan. 20, at noon, via Zoom (

Those who’d prefer to submit their comments in writing can do so to Ilsley Library Director Dana Hart at [email protected].

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