January 11, 2012BRISTOL—The Minot-Sleeper Library has served the community for 127 years out of the same modest, but beloved, historic brick building in downtown Bristol.
According to the Town's Annual Reports, there have been calls for its expansion from residents from at least as far back as 1909, as needs for stacks, storage and space have long since outgrown the tiny but heavily-used facility.
The demand continues to grow. This past year, 23,523 people visited the library, an eight percent increase over patronage in 2010. Circulation has increased by 13.5 percent this year alone, with 42,705 items being borrowed in 2011. The Library has sponsored 204 free programs for community members, like book discussions, reading groups and summer activities for youth. This past summer, 113 children signed up for the popular summer reading program.
But voters at the last two annual Town Meetings have narrowly defeated renovation and expansion plans, falling just a few votes short of achieving the two-thirds super-majority required for passage of a bond vote for the project.
This year, the Trustees and Friends of the Library will come back to March 2012 Town Meeting with a substantially different proposal, dramatically reducing the cost of the project to well under $1 million and responding to the feedback about aesthetic considerations and other issues which voters voiced at Town Meeting last year.
In addition, the Trustees have been able, thus far, to attract nearly $160,000 in private individual contributions from community members throughout the Newfound area to help defray the costs of construction and make the project possible for the Town of Bristol. They hope to be able to achieve the $200,000 capital fund goal for the year before voters take up deliberations on the proposal at the annual Town Meeting in March.
Between now and then, there will be at least one more public hearing scheduled where interested residents can weigh in on the merits of the latest proposal.
Local architect Brackley Shaw presented his conceptual drawings for the library expansion at a Design Charrette held at the Tapply Thompson Community Center this past Saturday morning. His new design envisions a one-story expansion off to the side the existing library on Town-owned property immediately next door.
Attendees at the charrette said that they were very pleased with design for the new wing, which continues the look of the historic original building in style, including the use of matching brick, Gothic windows and a modest roof line that seems to fit the scale of the surrounding neighborhood.
The new wing will house stacks, the adult reading room, expanded space for computer terminals, and a new children's room. The existing library facility will be re-purposed to house historical collections, genealogy resources, and to serve as a community meeting room for programs.
The current children's room, accessible by a narrow, treacherous staircase to the cramped basement of the library, will no longer serve the public, and will be used only for storage and utilities.
With the help of local contractor Jim Nyberg, Shaw has been able to identify a number of cost saving options for the new plan without detracting from the overall aesthetic appeal of the addition. Nyberg and Shaw say that if the proposal meets with approval at Town Meeting this year, the entire project will go out to bid to contractors in the local area, with the goal of achieving still greater cost savings wherever possible.
The budget of approximately $1.3 million for last year's proposal has been whittled down such that the voters will likely be presented with a $888,000 warrant article for the library expansion project this year. If all goes according to plan, construction on the addition could begin as early as June, and be completed within six to nine months of the start date. The plan calls for there to be very little disruption in operations during construction, with the library to stay open for almost the entire length of the project.
The new design was well-received by attendees at the charrette. There were a few suggestions for areas of additional cost savings, and no negative comments heard on the plan.
"Downtown Bristol is the key to the entire Newfound region," remarked one attendee. "We compete with lots of other fading mill towns for tourist traffic in the Lakes Region. This new library is appropriate and utilitarian. It is also a really attractive building. In conjunction with all the other developments that are going on in the downtown area, it will be a major asset for the community."