After lengthy feedback from the public both for and against the proposal, the Board of Directors unanimously approved a resolution to send on Main Street to voters in a November referendum.
Board members noted that Tuesday's vote merely sent the proposal, which would see the existing building expanded roughly 10,000-square feet into Center Memorial Park, to the ballot on Election Day this November, and that it would be voters in town who ultimately decided the fate of the initiative.
"At the end of the day, this is not an issue for nine people to decide the fate of," said Mark Tweedie, a Republican member of the Board of Directors. "This is something that the tens of thousands of registered voters should be voting on in November, and they we'll have a true answer as to what the public wants."
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But the resolution almost never made it to the ballot, as the Republican minority tried to amend it at the last minute to a plan that would instead see the existing library renovated at the cost of $5.5 million to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act, but would not include any expansion into the park. The Mary Cheney Library was built in 1937 and expanded in 1961, exempting it from the Americans With Disabilities Act, which was passed in 1990.
"I'm concerned that the cost of the project will fail a referendum and then we'll have nothing for the library at all," said Susan Holmes, the Republican member of the Board of Education who put forth the amendment. "I'm afraid that the $12.5 million is going to be too high and people won't vote for it."
But Holmes amendment was voted down along party lines, with the six Democrats on the board opposing it and the three Republicans supporting it.
"I believe that the people of Manchester that are going to vote on a referendum will have the intelligence enough to know whether they want the project to move forward or not," said Rudy Kissman, a Democratic member of the board who opposed Holmes' amendment and voted for the expansion resolution.
After Holmes' amendment was voted down, the three Republican members of the board said they would support the resolution to allow voters the opportunity to decide the issue in November.
"I do think that the voters need to have an opportunity to vote on this one way or another," said Cheri Pelletier, a Republican member of the board. "I think compromises were made (with this proposal). Overall, I think that it's a better result than what we originally started off with. I encourage every voter to come out and have their say."
The is something of a compromise between preservationists in town who oppose any sort of expansion into and those who argue that Manchester has outgrown its two existing libraries and needs a sizable expansion to support the libraries' usage and popularity.
The proposal would expand into about one percent of the existing park land, but makes certain concessions for park advocates, including a reclamation of lawn area in the center of the park, a decrease in asphalt paving for parking lots (much of the parking would be shifted across Center Street to a lot near Town Hall), an increase in public seating and pedestrian pathways within the park and a decrease in visible overhead utilities wires.
The 10,000-square foot expansion, drafted by the Essex-based Centerbrook Architects and Planners, would see an offshoot connected to the existing building via two brick buildings sandwiched between a glass-walled hallway that would provided entrances onto both Main Street in the front and Center Memorial Park in the rear. That portion would include a glass gazebo-like entrance looking out on the park and a skylight. The remainder of the expansion would replicate the brick facade of the existing building with large floor-to-ceiling windows, although is purposely designed not to mirror the look of the existing building. The current periodicals area would be shifted to the current children's area, which would be shifted to the new expansion, and a new main entrance, reading, terrace and garden areas are included in the plans. A presentation of the expansion is attached to this article as a PDF.
But, before the board could vote on the issue, members of the public had their say on the issue in a public comment portion of the meeting, with many speaking out against the plan.
"I realize the library needs a solution, but not by infringing on the park," said Betsy Baker. "It is like trying on a size six shoe when a 10 is needed."
Still, board members said that after debating and studying the issue for the better part of the past 20 years, Manchester voters finally deserved an opportunity to sound off on the debate themselves.
"I think that the library has been put on the back burner for every other project in town, and the library needs to stand and fall on its own merits," said Mayor Leo V. Diana before he voted for the resolution. "We're deciding to let the voters decide. And they'll decide."