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Ilsley Library has a plan: Renovate, expand on site

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard has unanimously decided that the Ilsley Library should be expanded and renovated at its current location at 75 Main St., a project roughly estimated at $14.8 million.

Renovation/expansion was one of four options the Ilsley Library 100 Project Team had been reviewing to correct deficiencies plaguing the Ilsley’s historic, 99-year-old building. 

As previously reported by the Independent, Ilsley officials contend the current building affords 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.

The Ilsley 100 team developed four concepts for addressing the Ilsley’s issues, including simply renovating the current building, renovating it while complementing it with an annex somewhere nearby, renovating and expanding the structure on site, or building a new structure. Price tags for those option ranged from $5.5 million (to simply renovate on site) to build a new structure off Bakery Lane for around $23 million.

After an intensive review of each option, supplemented with public feedback, the Project 100 team on Feb. 14 asked selectboard members to endorse expanding/renovating on site.

They did.

“We’re excited to see it,” a beaming selectboard Chairman Brian Carpenter said of what is a major milestone in the Ilsley’s multi-year makeover effort.

Ilsley officials can now focus on furthering the renovation/expansion plan, which will initially entail sending out a request for qualifications (RFQ) to regional architectural-design firms while working with a fundraising consultant to determine how much of the project costs can be raised through donations and grants, and how much will have to be asked from local taxpayers through a bond.

The selectboard has given the Ilsley 100 team permission to proceed with an RFQ and offer $5,000 stipends to each of the top four responding firms to develop drawings on how they would pull off the library project. The firm that presents the best plan will get the design contract.

“It would be like a design competition,” said Ilsley Library board President Joe McVeigh. “Our hope is by this summer to have some things to show people.”

Ilsley 100 team officials sided with renovating and expanding the library on site largely because it would create enough additional square footage to achieve the community’s vision for a new space at a much lower cost than building new. This option calls for fixing the original 1924 building while adding square footage in one or more locations for a total of 24,256 square feet. Portions of the library’s 1977 and 1988 additions would be selectively demolished to make room for the expansion.

Advocates for “option B” are also pleased it would retain the current 1924 structure, a gift from the late Civil War Union Army Col. Silas Augustine Ilsley.

Option B includes all soft costs the town might incur, including professional fees. It doesn’t include the costs of renting a temporary library location that would house around half of the Ilsley’s collection during construction, nor the expenses for moving library resources from 75 Main St. to the temporary spot and then back again when the project is completed.

Ilsley Library Director Dana Hart told the selectboard that renting a temporary collections space for two years could cost roughly $500,000, while the back-and-forth costs of moving half the collection to the temporary spot (and safely storing the other half) could be in the $130,000 range.

“We will get more accurate information when we identify a building to move into,” she said.

Project boosters stressed they want to minimize impacts on taxpayers, who in the not-too-distant future could also be asked to bankroll significant renovations to multiple Addison Central School District buildings. To that end, the Ilsley 100 team is proposing to hire consultant Christine Graham to conduct a library project fundraising feasibility study this fall. Graham’s work will include outreach to potential big donors while searching for other non-tax revenues.

While simply renovating the structure would be the cheapest option, that would “just be putting a Band Aid on a flawed building, for our current purposes,” McVeigh told the Independent during a January interview.

The Project 100 team has already identified eight grants for which the project is eligible and competitive, totaling $1,095,000. Ilsley Library is also expected to be competitive for a portion of the $26 million in combined American Rescue Plan Act funding and federal earmark money that will be available at the discretion of the Vermont Department of Libraries, according to project advocates.

“Of course, to move ahead with this, we’re going to have to figure out how to pay for it,” McVeigh said.

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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