An expansion of the Mary Cheney Library into a portion of Center Memorial Park moved closer to reality Tuesday, as the Board of Directors approved a resolution on a “final concept” that would see the existing library expanded into a small portion of the park.
The project carries an estimated price tag of about $10 million, and has been viewed as between those in town who wanted a library expansion closer to the 65,000-square foot recommendation that a previous study found would likely be needed to accommodate future growth, and preservationists who did not want any encroachment into Center Memorial Park, a seven-acre park along Main Street that for all intents and purposes serves as the town green.
The plan endorsed by the board Tuesday would see a 10,000-square foot add on to the existing building intending into the northern section of the park, but deliberately tries to maintain as much of the park as possible.
A little more than one percent of the park would be overtaken by the expansion, while areas that are currently paved near the Probate Court along Center Street would be reclaimed in an effort to try and minimize the building’s impact on the park’s footprint (a PowerPoint presentation of the plan is attached to this article).
But the compromise appeared to appease little of the crowd who attended Tuesday’s Board of Directors meeting, several dozens residents, and even members of the board expressed concerns with the plan.
“I don’t think this satisfies the future needs of our library, nor does it satisfy the preservation desire of some members of our community,” said Cheri Pelletier, a Republican member of the board. “This has been a decades long problem, and I don’t think it’s being solved with this compromise.”
Despite the reservations, all board members present – Dennis Brenner left the meeting early because he was not feeling well – endorsed the resolution, which would form a committee to develop façade and appearance standards for the building and a timeline to move the concept along to a voter referendum.
“It is a plan that is the best compromise for the use of the park,” said Mark Tweedie, a Republican member of the board. “I’m not going to say that I’m for it or against it, but I do believe my job here is to bring it forward so that the people can vote on it.”
Although Tweedie did state that he thought the architual concept art for a potential new facade for the library, designed by Centerbrook Architects and Planners, looked like it came straight from an episode of the old animated sitcom "The Jetsons" and that he hoped the committee would come up with a look that was more in character with the current building.
General Manager Scott Shanley said all the resolution does is essentially endorse the concept of the 10,000-square foot expansion while giving the board the authority to select a committee that would oversee its implementation. A separate vote from some future iteration of the board would still be required to approve the project and send the $10 million appropriation request for its construction before voters in a referendum, which Shanley said was still likely “years away.”
“At some point in the future the board is still going to have to vote on a referendum for this project,” said Shanley. “But you have to know where you’re going.”
Mayor Louis Spadaccini cautioned critics of the plan that there was still a long way to go before any portion of the library could even be expanded into the park, and that residents would still get to have their say.
“Ultimately, the decision will be in the hands of the voters on whether to proceed with this project,” he said.