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Board of Directors Discusses Future of Town's Libraries

Many residents said they seemed to favor building a new library somewhere large enough to outcome the town's needs for a new facility.

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." 

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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. " 

Ed Slegeski January 09, 2013 at 03:10 PM
I mean no disrespect, but in fact the town put it to a referendum, and the question was turned down. I liken these new proposals to your child asking the same question(s) over and over until you relent. My humble opinion is that you are going to keep spending money on a facility that you may bring up to code, but ultimately will still be too small with limited parking. I have mentioned my plan to Mr Hachey (and others), more than once, which is to look at the large empty building behind the Little Theatre of Manchester. It is large enough, could also house other amenities like a Barnes and Noble like coffee shop, Computer lab, and Public meeting rooms which could be rented out. Moving the library there AND keeping the name, would also make that area of town the Cheney Historic and cultural center of town. (Little Theatre, Fire Museum, Manchester Museum, Cheney Homesteads, The Great lawn.....) The building exists, just needs rehab. Much less than building new. Using that building..... 1. Puts an empty building back into use 2. Leaves the Parkade open for use AND ON THE TAX ROLE The Lutz children's museum is screaming for space, is highly attended, and would be a perfect fit for a larger home, on a bus route, and could be centrally located in the current Mary Cheney Library. I continue to be willing to share this plan with anyone, and will gladly walk the property to show the possibilites.
Bob Hetzel January 10, 2013 at 09:20 PM
If the town vacates Mary Cheney, what shall it do with the building? Tear it down? Sell it to a private party? Adapt it to another public use? If the last, it will still require ADA compliance. Let's do it now. If Mary Cheney were adults only, it would be quiet for reading and research, including computers. In a children's library, parents could participate in activities, help their children individually, or enjoy a coffee break with other parents in a quiet room.
Rebecca Smith January 14, 2013 at 09:35 AM
Linda Murray & others: voters voted down THAT SPECIFIC PLAN. Just like sometimes voters vote down a town budget-- that doesn't mean you just say, "oh well, i guess we dont have a budget". It means you have to revamp, look at other plans. I still say they need to start by finding out WHY people who voted no did so; & public hearings are 1 way to do that. But for the many people who can't get to meeting, a survey online would be another good way; maybe also a phone # where you can leave your comments for those without computers--it wouldn't have to be a manned phone line, just hooked up to something to record comments. To Ed Slegeski, are you sure that old building would cost less to renovate than building new?? Its pretty old, & could have significant issues. Re other uses for current Mary Cheney Library building: options might be limited by the terms of the original donation of the land to the town.
Rebecca Smith January 14, 2013 at 10:09 AM
Hey, y doesnt the mobil site hv a chkbox for email notifications of other comments on the article?! I ws just going to ask the editor if there wsnt some way to kno if othr pepl comment aftr me!
Ed Slegeski January 14, 2013 at 10:34 AM
Rebecca, I'm certainly not an architect, but I can only imagine if you gut the building (Which I think for the most part it is, Silktown Roofing is using it for storage), you can start with a fresh slate Look at the loading dock behind the Little Theatre, what a grand staircase and doorway that would be, and easy to have handicapped accessable ramps. Drive along the side of the build...Look at the brickwork. look at the HUGE windows that would allow tons of natural sunlight to fill the interior. Look in the rear of the building between it and the Apartment building, what a great courtyard that could be. Keep the name, make it part of historic building already there. Add some nice amenities that compliment a modern functional library, (conference rooms, coffee shop). Right on a bus line, close to the Bennet Academy, close proximity to one of the largest apartment complexes in Manchester. Why not at least look at it? Then move the Lutz Children's museum into the current library and you have a win win.

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