Although they didn't make any formal decisions, the Manchester Board of Directors discussed the potential future of the town's public library system Tuesday night, roughly two months after voters rejected a $12.5 million referendum to expand the Mary Cheney Library.
Town directors themselves did not say much when it came to the subject, but instead chose to listen to the comments from members of the public about their thoughts, concerns and desires on ways to improve the town's two public libraries.
"In these tough times, there's two areas that we cannot mess with," said Frank Salerno, a Manchester resident who told the board about his youth growing up in Bridgeport and how his love of reading and time spent in public libraries helped keep him out of trouble. "One is public safety, the other is education, and the right arm of education is the public library."
Many residents and even several library employees said they wanted to see the town improve its library system, but didn't think it could be done through merely renovating the Mary Cheney Library, and some even advocated for building a new library somewhere else in town.
"Putting hundreds of thousands of dollars and making the library prettier will not solve our problems with space and accessibility," said Lynn Jacobs, a library employee. "Renovating Mary Cheney just isn't going to work. I think that has been shown a million times."
In November of 2012, Manchester voters rejected a $12.5 million referendum to expand the Mary Cheney Library by a vote of 13,069 to 9,538. That proposal would have seen the Mary Cheney Library, which serves as the main and largest branch of the town's two public libraries, expanded roughly 10,000-square feet into an 0.8-acre section of Center Memorial 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. The renovation would also have made the library compliant with all ADA requirements. It has been estimated that merely renovating the Mary Cheney Library to make it compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act would cost roughly $5.5 million.
According to a statistical report compiled by the Connecticut State Library, based on data collected from July 2008 through June 2009, Manchester's total circulation output at its two public libraries made it the fourth most utilized public library system in the state, coming in just behind the communities of Greenwich, Stamford and Fairfield.
The Whiton Memorial Branch Library, the smaller of the town's two libraries, was built in 1932 and is approximately 12,500-square feet.
After residents had their say on the issue, Mayor Leo V. Diana said that he expected it would be the first of many public discussions and hearings on the issue, and board members did not rule out establishing some sort of a committee to study the issue in further depth.
"In my opinion, the board is going to have to make some policy decisions before we determine what direction we want to go in," Diana said. "…This is not going to be the last we're going to hear of this. "