Library's Expansion  | Newspaper Articles

Library's anniversary, construction deadline loom near
Robert Burgess, Sentinel & Enterprise, August 29, 2005

LEOMINSTER -- The Leominster Public Library's West Street home is just an empty building with a metal fence around it right now.

Patrons looking to drop by to read a local or foreign newspaper, participate in a book club or sign up their children for storytime have to drive more than a mile down Mechanic Street to the temporary library.

But in just a few weeks, passersby will see the destruction of the West Street structure's newer, rear addition, which already has a large hole under one of the empty windows, the result of gutting the building before demolition.

Library officials hope the completion of the reconstructed West Street facility, with a new addition to complement the original 1910 structure, will coincide with the 150th anniversary of the city's first library, which was originally shuffled between various rooms in downtown-area buildings until the 20th century.

"I think that people are looking for a place where they can come together as a community," Library Director Susan Shelton said, adding that libraries contribute to a better quality of life for residents. "Libraries are becoming community centers."

Given all the existing activities for young people and senior citizens, Gilbert Tremblay, chairman of the Library Board of Trustees, predicted the new library will be busy when it opens in late 2006 or early 2007.

"It's long since passed when libraries were known as a repository for books," Tremblay said.

"Libraries are cultural assets," said Mark Bodanza, chairman of the library's building committee. "We think this project is going to reinvigorate an already high-functioning and successful library."

Mayor Dean Mazzarella said that libraries have always included new services the public is interested in, including books with larger print and books on tape or CDs.

"Libraries have reacted to the changing needs of the community," he said. "They've been focused on the needs of the customer."

Andrew Carnegie -- a millionaire industrialist, philanthropist and early supporter of free public libraries -- helped provide the seed money to build the first free-standing public library in Leominster, which opened at 30 West St. in 1910. The Roman brick structure with limestone trim is considered a "historical gem," according to Shelton.

"It's a beautiful building," she added. "They just don't build buildings like that anymore."

She explained that the building is considered a contributing structure to the Monument Square Historical District, which is listed on the National Register of Historical Places.

"Libraries really belong in downtowns," said Mazzarella, adding that many families and workers in the downtown district are able to easily access the West Street building. "It adds so much to the flavor of the historic downtown."

It may have been easier to build a new facility on an empty parcel of land away from the downtown area, but Shelton said retaining the 1910 building was critical. It also sits in the geographic center of the city, she said.

"It did make some of the planning challenging," she acknowledged.

Tremblay said staying in the downtown area was always a priority. The state Board of Library Commissioners also prefers downtown libraries, he said.

"It's such a central gathering spot," Tremblay said. "It's a focal point for the area."

Shelton added that officials hired architectural firms -- Adams and Smith as well as Beacon Architectural Associates, both of Boston -- which specialize in rehabilitating old libraries.

"Staying in the downtown area was at the forefront of our planning," she said. "We know we're a vital part of the downtown."

The new, two-and-a-half floor building will more than double the previous size, from 20,000 square feet to 44,513 square feet.

Plans call for more meeting rooms and an auditorium that can seat 150 people for events.

There will be a new and improved Robert Cormier Center, an nationally recognized young adults area. A new children's area will have sections specializing in different age groups.

There will be more computers and the building will be equipped for wireless Internet for laptop users. The third mezzanine level will house the non-fiction collection. There will be more space for studying, tutoring and computer training.

The Friends of the Leominster Public Library will have a permanent area for collecting and selling used books in the basement of the 1910 building.

"This is an opportunity to do the project right," Shelton said. "I think it's going to be a building the community can be proud of. It will invite people to come in and linger."

The 1966 addition -- described as more of a warehouse structure than viable library space -- has few admirers. It will be demolished in a matter of weeks, after Fontaine Brothers Inc., the project's general contractors based out of Springfield, remove all the asbestos from the building.

"One of the architects described it as a warehouse for books," said Tremblay, adding that the 1966 addition was only meant to serve the community's needs for 20 years. "It outlived its life span."

What will replace the 1966 building has been a vision of library supporters, including Shelton, since 1999, when the Library Board of Trustees began to actively pursue a new facility.

"We started expressing concerns about the lack of adequate space back in the 1980s," said Shelton, who has served as director for 20 years. "I have always had the dream that we could expand the library and take it to the next level."

Almost a century after Carnegie donated money for the 1910 structure, the state will now provide the seed money for the next chapter in the library's history. The building project will cost over $10.8 million. The state Board of Library Commissioners has agreed to pay $3,021,441. The city will pay $7.8 million.

Shelton said the library will need to privately raise additional money to pay for the cost of furnishings, fixtures and equipment. She said it is premature to guess how much more money items such as furniture and computers will cost, but said a fundraising campaign will begin soon, and will include naming rights for rooms and sections in the new building.

The new project will also refurbish the front of the 1910 building facing West Street, retaining the original masonry which includes architectural ornamentation such as limestone lion heads. The original entrance, which had been replaced by a side entrance in the 1966 structure, will open once more to West Street.

"I think it's important for us to maintain our connection to the West Street area," she said.

The new main entrance of the building will be in the rear following construction, facing Pearl Street.

Parking spaces will increase from 24 to 54 spaces, including a plot of grass behind the Pilgrim Congregational Church, which church officials have agreed to develop as a shared parking lot with the library.

Shelton expects construction to be completed by late 2006, if all goes according to plan. It then could be a month or more before the library to fully move back in and to open to the public.

Mazzarella said the city has been satisfied with Fontaine Brothers' work on past projects, and the mayor is "fairly optimistic" the new library will be completed on time. Bodanza was also confident the project will be finished as scheduled, depending on how construction progresses.

Staff members in the meantime are making the most out of the temporary site at Crossroads Office Park, 690 Mechanic Street, trying to make it feel like home though only one-third of the library's collection is available there.

"More and more people are finding us," Shelton said. "People are expecting it to look more temporary than it does. For what it is, we're very fortunate to have such a nice space."

Residents interesting in following the progress of construction can visit www.leominsterlibrary.com for updates.



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