The Board of Directors got a preview of just what exactly could look like Tuesday.
John LaBelle, a member of the Library Expansion Committee which was tasked with offering a recommendation on the aesthetical design of the expansion, said that one of the most difficult tasks the committee had to deal with was in blending the original 1937 building with additions that were added in the 1960s to the new proposed additions.
"The primary approach here was aesthetic," LaBelle told the Board of Directors. "We looked at a number of designs."
General Manager Scott Shanley noted that the expansion would fall under federal statutes that dictate acceptable practices for the expansion of a historic building, and that any new design could not copy or replicate the look of the original building.
"You need to find ways to make the original standout and complement it," Shanley said.
The designs that the committee eventually settled on for the 10,000-square foot expansion, drafted by the Essex-based Centerbrook Architects and Planners, would see the 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.
Shanley said the next phase would be to obtain "more refined renderings" from Centerbrook Architects and a cost estimated, then the expansion would be formally presented to the Board of Directors, who would vote on whether or not the proposal should go before voters in a November referendum. Voters would still have to approve any proposal in a public referendum.
The project carries an estimated price tag of about $10 million, and is something of a compromise between fractions in town who support 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 do 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 currently being designed would see a 10,000-square foot add-on to the existing extending into the northern section of the park, but also deliberately tries to preserve as much of the park as possible. A little more than one percent of the park would be overtaken by the proposed 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 overall footprint.
Still, despite the "compromise," many residents spoke out against the idea of expanding into Center Memorial Park in any form Tuesday.
"I really don't want the park to be taken for a library expansion that really isn't necessary," resident Peg LaForge told the board. "We have a lot of other buildings in town that we can use for a rec center or a community center."
While Fred Spaulding, former chairman of the town's Conservation Commission, said the expansion would be a "step backwards" for Manchester.
"It's a point of deteriorating leadership to put something like this in a park that has been valued for generations," Spaulding said.
But John Garaventa, the owner of a photography studio on Main Street near the Mary Cheney Library, said the library would be a great investment in the town's future.
"Mary Cheney would not recognize what a library is today, because the Internet didn't exist when she was alive," Garaventa said. "The library is much more than just books on a shelf. It's an opportunity to learn and expand one's horizons, and if you're going to make an investment in town, I think that's where it should go."
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.
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