Does the town need a new library, or just renovations?

Does the town need a new library, or just renovations?

TOWNSEND — Plans to rebuild the Townsend Public Library go back to 1988, according to a representative from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners.

Since then, the proposed project has seen a “series of fits and starts,” said Anne Larsen, a building consultant for the state board, at a joint working meeting held Jan. 30 with the Board of Selectmen and the Library Trustees.

Town administrator Gregory Barnes arranged the meeting when it appeared that there were some disparate opinions, primarily over whether to build a new library or renovate the old one.

“I just think it is important to try to build consensus as to where to go forward,” said Barnes.

To receive a state grant administered by the library commissioners, said Larsen, the town must provide a library program, with demographics and population predictions that identify what resources the library will require to serve the community for the next 20 years, mostly relative to space. The town would then need to hire a project manager who would seek an architect to present a building proposal based on site engineering. The engineering results would best show whether a new building or a renovation is preferable.

“The goal is to get an architect to visualize both of these alternatives to you,” said Larsen. After the program is submitted, the commissioners then review it to assess whether the proposed project will meet the program.

Larsen has met with Library Director Heidi Fowler, who has already outlined the program, said Larsen.

“I have to tell you, I have serious concerns when I sit in that library,” she said.

Besides not having a second egress, there are two floors and usually only two staff members on duty, Larsen pointed out.

There is also no handicapped entrance to the building, which could cause a lawsuit for the town if it turns down a building project for the library.

Over the years, library plans consistently called for a new building — the trustees had to turn down a $1 million grant from the state when a new building was voted down at an earlier town meeting, according to Larsen.

Now, it’s like starting from scratch, she said.

According to Fowler’s report, the library building should be about 16,000 square feet. The current library has just over 4,000 square feet of space, said Fowler.

The only requirement to receive the grant is that the 20-year program is met, said Larsen. It doesn’t matter whether the town pursues a renovation or a new building, she reiterated.

However, prior programs consistently pointed to a new building, according to Larsen. Fowler, working mostly independently on the program, came up with the same result, she noted.