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Minot-Sleeper Library plans move forward

December 21, 2011
BRISTOL—The new year will bring a new chance for the Minot-Sleeper Library expansion plan.

Local architect Brackley Shaw, construction consultant Jim Nyberg and the Trustees of the Minot-Sleeper Library appeared before the Bristol Board of Selectmen last week to update town officials on the latest proposal to renovate and expand the heavily used local public library downtown.

The tiny, historic brick library building, with its distinctive architecture, slate roof and gothic windows is a defining feature of the local landscape, adding to the identity and character of downtown Bristol. But space in the stacks and for storage at the 126-year-old building has long since been exhausted. The volume of library patrons, especially the young and the elderly, far exceeds the capacity of the building, and many functions have to be held off site in order to accommodate the continuously growing demand for programs and services.

Expansion of the cramped and crowded facility has been on the docket in some form for literally decades without much success, and recent proposals have narrowly failed to obtain the supermajority needed for passage of a bond vote on the floor of the annual March Town Meeting.

But this year, the Trustees say they have great hopes that the new architectural plan captures everything that the voters are looking for, and responds to some of the concerns and criticisms of previous plans. In addition, they have launched a very highly successful private fundraising campaign in support of the project, and hope to continue to attract support from out of town donors, seasonal residents and other philanthropic minded individuals. A number of donors are waiting in the wings to see if the new proposal can pass muster at Town Meeting before stepping up to the plate to commit their own funds to the project.

Brackley Shaw unveiled his conceptual drawings at the meeting, revealing a one-story addition off to one side of the existing structure, in the vacant space formerly occupied by a gas station, now demolished. Unlike last year's proposal, which was relatively modernistic by comparison, the new plan mimics the distinctive historic Queen Anne Tudor style of the historic building, continuing the brick façade with gothic windows into the new wing.

"I think this plan is a lot better looking than last year's proposal," commented Select Board member Phil Dion. "I think it is much better suited to the surrounding community."

The plan is to repurpose the existing building as a community meeting room and space for some historic collections, and to use the inaccessible basement area, currently a children's room, for storage and utilities, that will not be open to the public. The adult reading room and a new children's room will be housed in the new addition.

The proposal received praise from board members, who noted that it is expected to come in for significantly less cost than the previous proposals.

Construction consultant Jim Nyberg said that if the project is passed at Town Meeting, everything will go out to bid, and additional savings may be achieved in the process. The construction manager and architect are local business community members, and the hope is that local contractors will bid on every aspect of the job.

Interested Bristol residents will have an opportunity to see the conceptual drawings and preliminary architectural plans at a design charrette that is scheduled for Saturday, January 7, from 2 p.m. until 5 p.m. There will also be further public hearings on the proposal before it appears on the warrant of the annual Town Meeting in March.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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