Library's Expansion | Newspaper Articles
Library's anniversary, construction deadline loom near
Robert Burgess, Sentinel & Enterprise, August 29,
LEOMINSTER -- The Leominster Public Library's West Street
home is just an empty building with a metal fence around it
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
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
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
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
"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
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
"Staying in the downtown area was at the forefront of our
planning," she said. "We know we're a vital part of the
The new, two-and-a-half floor building will more than double
the previous size, from 20,000 square feet to 44,513 square
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
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
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
"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
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
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