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Charting a new future for the historic Minot Sleeper Library

The future of the historic Minot Sleeper Library, now in its 125th year, will be the focus of a Design Charrette to take place on Saturday, Nov. 13, at 2:30 p.m. in the Meeting Room of the Bristol Fire Department. All interested members of the public are invited to attend. (Marcia Morris) (click for larger version)
November 03, 2010
BRISTOL—Library lovers and community minded residents from Bristol and surrounding communities will have a unique opportunity to participate in a special event, as the Trustees of the Minot Sleeper Library have scheduled a Design Charrette with architect David King to brainstorm about a completely new plan for the expansion and renovation of the historic library that is a hub of activity in Bristol's downtown.

The Charrette will take place on Saturday, Nov. 13 at 2:30 p.m. in the meeting room at the Bristol Fire Department. Everyone interested in the future of the Minot Sleeper Library is urged to attend.

"The Trustees are looking for input from regular library users, all residents, local business owners, and anyone who is interested in what is in the best interest of downtown Bristol," said Library Director Deborah Gilbert. "There is a lot of excitement. We have already had a lot of feedback, with some people making suggestions about such things as the possible use of alternative energy, even geothermal heating and cooling. We want to hear what the citizens of Bristol want from their library in the future, how they want to use it, how they would like it to look and how it will fit into the streetscape of surrounding buildings."

The distinctive architecture and historic significance of the Minot Sleeper Library make it one of the most important landmarks of the town of Bristol, but it is a lot more than a pretty building. It is heavily used, by people of all ages.

Stepping back in time? The beautiful interior of the Minot Sleeper Library, characterized by its tall, graceful windows and original stacks, will be a focus of preservation efforts as future plans for the renovation and expansion of the facility take shape. (Marcia Morris) (click for larger version)
The library is well known for exceptional special children's programming, for extremely popular pre-school story times, and the new "lap sit" reading times with mothers and very young children. Due to space issues, many of these heavily attended events have to be held outside of the existing library, in the community center, Masonic Lodge or Old Town Hall.

The library is also an essential resource for many senior citizens that are daily or weekly users and rely on the library to provide books, movies, magazines and all-important access to computers and the Internet. It serves as a vital source of information and assistance for local residents who are seeking employment and career development.

"If you look at how the library is used, consider the large number of people who come in and out on a daily basis, you will see that it is a major attraction to downtown Bristol," said Gilbert. "It is like an 'anchor store' in a retail business area, a destination for many people, bringing them into town for the sole purpose of using the library. Many people incorporate the library into their regular routine, running errands, getting their hair done, going to the post office and stopping at the library."

The Trustees of the Minot Sleeper are embarking on a new path for the library, after a series of setbacks and opportunities have created a new set of possibilities for the renovation and expansion plan.

The former proposal for the library, originally designed nearly a decade ago, was a two-story plan, necessitating an elevator for accessibility and entailing an addition onto the back of the existing facility. The former proposal was unable to garner sufficient support to pass by the two-thirds majority required at Town Meeting.

Recent changes to the FEMA floodplain maps along the Newfound River since the disastrous Mother's Day floods of 2008 have changed the landscape for development in the area, as well.

Meanwhile, the foresight of the Trustees and the town in acquiring the adjacent former Premium Glass building is now paying off in terms of yielding new options for the library. In recent weeks, this so-called "annex" building, damaged beyond usefulness, has been demolished and removed from the site, making way for whatever the future may hold.

The Trustees now envision a single story addition to the library jutting out from the existing building onto this neighboring property. The new plan would secure almost as much additional square footage as the original plan, without the complications of adding an elevator for accessibility.

Given the flexibility provided by the open space now available, it would be possible to phase the construction of a new library so that there would be no need to close or re-locate the library functions during the completion of the project.

At the upcoming Charrette on Nov. 13, architect David King will present some preliminary conceptual design ideas for the new Minot Sleeper, and will then facilitate a discussion about a variety of issues, including how the exterior of the new wing will complement the existing historic building and blend into other surrounding buildings, such as the Masonic Lodge nearby.

King will take notes and incorporate this public input into developing the new plan for the library.

The Trustees of the Minot Sleeper Library are hoping to be able to make enough progress to be able to present a new proposal to the voters at the March 2011 Town Meeting.

Now in its quasquicentennial year, or 125th anniversary, the venerable old Minot Sleeper Library has served the community well, through good times and bad. Now suffering from severe "growing pains," struggling to accommodate the diverse needs of thousands of users from the local area, the community will have the opportunity to consider how to chart a new path for the library so that it can continue to serve Bristol and surrounding towns for the many generations to come.

Martin Lord & Osman
Varney Smith
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