The 1999-2002 Library project was begun twenty years ago. In that project, the existing 1966 Library absorbed the adjacent former Town Hall, vacated when town government moved into the renovated Central Junior High School. The Town Hall wing was recycled into the Children’s Department. The project was paid for with a combination of private fund-raising, town debt financing, and a 50 percent bite [DM CHECK THIS NUMBER]out of the principal of the Library’s small endowment.
Since 2000, libraries have changed greatly in how they are used and in what people expect of them. Back then, the Library was more a place to get books or sit and read; today, it is vibrant community and educational center, a place to take Lifelong Learning classes, hear author readings, watch current movies, do Internet research for school or work, buy books at the used-book store, view art exhibits, listen to live music, bring children for enrichment activities, meet in groups for study, attend lectures, or come together to discuss social or community affairs.
The intensity and diversity of uses has grown enormously. Today, an average of a thousand people a day come to the Library, and many others try to come, but cannot find a meeting room or parking space. They often park along local streets, an unsafe expedient which irritates neighbors.
In 2009, adult program attendance was 8,815; in 2017 it was 18,695. In 2009, children’s program attendance was 5,871; in 2017, it was 10,708. To meet that demand, we don’t have enough electric outlets, tables or chairs, meeting rooms or program rooms, and our restrooms are woefully inadequate. Today, we sometimes have to hold important events off-site -- at Derby Academy, for example -- because there is no space large enough at the Library.
The 2000 project made the best use of an abandoned town building, but the old Town Hall wing is ill-suited to children’s and young adult services -- it has too many small rooms that can’t be seen from the circulation desk, too many stairwells and exits, and it is too far from the main entrance. Officials from the Library Commissioners were concerned about security in that area. We have even heard parents say they prefer to take their children to the Cohasset Library, where the children’s department is near the main desk -- as it should be. The Library needs a great, open, safe space for children (and their parents), indoors and out, as well as young adults, which the proposed design offers. And we would also have an outside children’s play area, with equipment, to be accessible only from inside the building.
Because of its narrow shape and interior load-bearing walls, the old Town Hall cannot be fixed. It needs to be replaced.