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Supporters lay out reasons to move library to Warren Town Hall

October 5, 2006

By Erin Post

Relocating the library to the Town Hall in Warren would accomplish something more than free up additional space for books, supporters recently argued.

"It's really the rebirth of the town hall as a community center," said Deborah Wetmore, library commissioner, to a group of about 25 residents gathered at the town hall for an informational meeting on September 28.

She said the town hall, a historic structure built in 1872, needs daily use to make it an integral part of life in Warren and that housing the library in the building may just be one stop on its evolution as a gathering place.

It may also provide the most cost-effective means to make space for town offices and to give the library room to expand, supporters said, despite over $100,000 worth of renovations necessary to make it handicapped accessible.

A few residents at the meeting questioned whether spending the money to refurbish the building was worth the investment if the library might outgrow the space in the future, while others pointed to specific parts of the proposal that may require negotiations with neighbors.

The select board initially discussed the potential move with library commissioners last fall. Library commissioners then conducted a survey of town residents and hired local architect Ellen Strauss to study the town hall and come up with a plan.

Strauss revealed those plans to the public Thursday, and explained to the crowd that at first, she thought moving the library to the town hall "was a terrible idea."

However, she said more research and meetings with state historic preservation officials changed her mind.

Pointing to a blueprint of the 1,500-square-foot space--about double the size of the current library--she said it would be possible for the library to exist on the ground floor of the town hall without compromising the building's integrity

Moveable stacks along the walls and modular shelving in the northwest section of the room could house books while leaving space for meetings or events. Wetmore said the town hall would provide about 30 percent more shelving space for the library.

In Strauss' proposal, the stage in the back of the building hosts two areas divided by moveable shelves, with one area designated for children and the other for young adults. Each boasts a table that may also be moved for performances, Strauss said.

Stations just below the stage at each corner would add space for two computers, adding to the one the current library has at the circulation desk, said librarian Deborah Kahn.

Strauss stressed that all of the furniture and equipment in the plan could be removed, leaving the space intact as it is now if the library outgrows the space, or if the town decides to use the building for other purposes in the future.

The second floor would still be available for gatherings, as would the basement and the kitchen.  

If the library does move into the building, renovations worth about $156,000 would be necessary to make it complaint with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Currently, the building is only used for the occasional meeting or event, in large part because of accessibility issues.

An elevator is "crucial," Strauss said. Plans also call for renovation of the two bathrooms, with at least one to be handicapped accessible, installation of a smoke detection system, new emergency exits for the basement and the second floor, and miscellaneous improvements including new handrails and improved lighting from the municipal parking lot.

If the town wishes to use the building as a public space, these improvements would have to be done "whether the library exists here or not," Strauss said, noting that grant funding may be available.

Recommended maintenance costs run about $58,000, according to Strauss' estimates. This includes installing a new roof, improving energy efficiency in windows, remediating basement mold, and repairing minor structural damage on the south side of the building.

Library commissioners and employees requested about $7,550 in improvements, including two windows in the back of the building, glass panels on the interior entrance door, stairs from the front of the town hall to the road, and upgraded lighting.

New shelves, stacks, and furniture--which Strauss said the library may choose to add piecemeal as money becomes available--would cost about $48,000.

Some residents questioned whether investing all of that money in the town hall was a wise choice if the library may outgrow the space and necessitate a different building in the future.

Another attendee noted that adding an elevator shaft to the building may require negotiations with an abutting resident, since the property line runs very close to the walls of the town hall.

Select board member Barry Simpson said some funds are available in the town's capital budget, and agreed with Strauss in pointing out that grants may come more easily if the town demonstrates that the building would be used daily. 

"The real opportunity here is that we have possibilities for getting funding," he said.

Mac Rood, chair of the Warren Select Board, said following the meeting that a charrette, which the planning commission is organizing for early November, should add to their discussion how best to alleviate space constraints in Warren's public buildings.

Once officials process all the information they gather, any proposal to move the library to the town hall would likely be turned over to the voters.

"Ultimately I think it would be a town meeting vote," he said.

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