MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard on Tuesday declined a request from Ilsley Public Library directors that the design of the proposed new town office building be revised to reflect 3,000 to 4,000 square feet of additional space for a children’s library.
But selectboard members agreed to study, and take on as a priority, the library’s space needs and didn’t close the door on the possibility that at least some of those needs could be addressed within the new town office project.
Ilsley Library directors at Tuesday’s gathering reiterated their offer to pay $10,000 for design revisions of the proposed 9,500-square-foot town office building to reflect space for a new children’s library. Library trustees first floated the idea to the selectboard last month, but it was a meeting at which four of the seven board members were absent.
Since the town last expanded the Ilsley Library 26 years ago, children’s use of the institution’s services has increased by 50 percent, according to library Director Kevin Unrath. Children last year checked out 40 percent of all books lent by the Ilsley, accounting for a major portion of the 188,000 person-visits to the historic Main Street building.
Ilsley has in recent years significantly increased the number and variety of its children’s programs beyond traditional story times and summer reading programs. These new programs focus on teaching children to create content through writing workshops and instruction in digitized media, video production, animation, electronic music, computer software, and digital photography. The library also offers early childhood literacy programming.
“It’s important to dispel the myth that the library doesn’t get used, now that there are computers, iPads and cell phones,” Unrath said. He noted the library continues to add to its book collection and is quickly running out of shelf space.
Trustees in 2007 formed a Space Study Committee that recommended some possible solutions for the space crunch, including an addition to the southwest corner of the building. The three-story addition would have added 5,500 square feet of space that would have, among other things, provided more room for children’s programs. That plan was not pursued, due in part to limited funds and the logistics of building onto a historically significant structure.
So library officials saw an opportunity to have the space needs addressed within what would be an adjacent town office building. Current plans call for the building to feature a pedestrian link to the library. Trustees asked that the structure’s design be augmented by 3,000 to 4,000 square feet to reflect a new children’s library.
“We didn’t want that moment to pass,” David Andrews, chairman of the Ilsley Library trustees, said.
Selectwoman Susan Shashok endorsed Ilsley Library trustees’ request to consider a children’s library within the design of the new town office building. Her motion failed by a 4-2 vote, however.
“I don’t see any reason why we can’t explore the possibilities right now,” she said.
Selectboard Chairman Dean George acknowledged the evidence pointing to the library’s space needs, but argued such planning should be done separately from the town office project. He said the steering committee is looking into that town office project — as well as a new recreation center — and already has a “full plate.” The town office and recreation center projects are slated to be decided as a bond referendum on Town Meeting Day (March 4, 2014).
George proposed the town and library instead establish a separate, joint committee to try and resolve the Ilsley’s space crunch.
“(The committee) could work on solutions to solve this problem in a timely way, and then report back to us to begin to look at how we get this done,” George said.
Selectman Nick Artim agreed.
“I am afraid that by rushing this 3,000-or-so-square-foot children’s library, we might get it wrong,” he said. Artim suggested the library use its $10,000 to hire architects to look within its current facilities and frame an expansion plan that could still take place on the Osborne House property.
“This is a conversation that would have been useful to have around a year ago,” Selectman Craig Bingham said. “This is a conversation that should have happened before anything was put together. I know that the library is overcrowded … It’s crammed with people and it’s crammed with books. You folks need some relief. I certainly hope we could partner with you in a plan that would save money for the taxpayers in the long run, and get it right.”
Resident Ellen Oxfeld said the Ilsley Library might be better off not attaching its future to the proposed new municipal building. She noted the project, the subject of much controversy, is not guaranteed to receive voter support. With that in mind, Unrath suggested that planning for library expansion begin as soon as possible after the Town Meeting Day vote on the municipal building and recreation center projects.
George agreed, adding that the new library planning committee — made up of Ilsley and selectboard delegates — map out an expansion timetable that’s “acceptable” to trustees.
Reporter John Flowers is at email@example.com.