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Library Update: What’s going on behind the plastic curtain?

by Nancy Baron
January 19, 2019

As many of you are aware, Holliston has been functioning with “The Mighty Mini-Library” since mid-November, with the majority of the library space made off-limits to patrons with swaths of plastic curtains barring the way to both the Children’s Department and to the greater part of the first floor.

Disclosure: The writer is a member of the Board of Library Trustees.

Assistant Library Director, Jen Keen, noticed shortly before Halloween that several of the stacks on the balcony level were piercing the ceiling.  The engineering firm, Russo Barr Associates, who through serendipity happened to be onsite working on the roof repair project, quickly saw that the real problem was that the ceiling was collapsing onto the stacks.  As explained by Mary Greendale’s Nov 6 article, “Selectmen: Trusses Failing in Library," the problem was determined to be that the supporting trusses, from which the ceiling is suspended, are tearing out of the metal plates that connect them to the underside of the roof, causing the suspended ceiling to sag dangerously. This precipitated the brief emergency closure of the building on October 30.

Since then Town Building Inspector, Chris Canney, has okayed the use of the old 1904 portion of the building—the original Carnegie Library--but the 1985 addition remains off-limits to patrons.  Library Director, Leslie McDonnell, has led a heroic effort by the staff to provide patrons with as many routine library services as possible.  The “Mighty Mini-Library” includes popular library materials for all ages, and in some cases staff can retrieve items from the closed portion.  Alternate sites have been found for nearly all the library programs and for groups such as the Scouts, who meet in the library.  After a brief interruption at the beginning of the ceiling crisis, Minuteman delivery of materials ordered from other libraries continues as normal.

Scaffolding and supporting beams now run up from the Children’s Department and through the entirety of the first floor and balcony.  The ceiling is no longer in any danger of collapsing, even in the event of a heavy snow.  More damage was found than was originally expected, but Russo Barr has made the necessary drawings to guide the repair process and these have been sent to the roofing contractor who will perform the work.  Building permits are expected to be pulled within a week or so.  It’s also been confirmed that the Town’s insurance will cover the cost of repairs.  Director McDonnell and the Library Trustees are hopeful that repairs will begin before the end of the month and that the full library will reopen to the public in February.

The big issue for the Town to consider is this: do we want to continue to plow money into incremental repairs to an aging building or do we want to consider other options?  The fact that we’ve narrowly avoided what might have been a catastrophic disaster suggests that the time is right for serious consideration of this matter.

The Trustees have been mulling over this issue for well over a year and have consulted with the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) as to how best to proceed.  A limited amount of state grant money may be available at some time in the future to help finance either renovation or new construction.  The MCBC has recommended that the Trustees first apply for a feasibility study.  In this case a specialized library consultant would be brought in to perform a functional assessment to assess the present building and the feasibility of constructing a new one or of re-configuring the present one.  The consultant would assess and observe, using ­­tools like surveys, focus groups, traffic studies and community input.    If desired, a second type of study could follow the first that would involve an architect making cost estimates on renovating, upgrading or re-configuring the present structure.  However, as there are currently no MBLC funds available, the cost of such studies would have to be carried by the town.

Preliminary discussions have begun with the Board of Selectmen and FinCom, and there is a general consensus that the time has come for the town as a whole to have this conversation.

The fact that we’ve narrowly avoided the sort of disaster that might have had Holliston leading the national news should cause all of us to pause for a moment to consider the big questions:  What do we want from our public library?  How do we protect and preserve a treasured asset that serves every member of our community--providing everything from lap-time stories for babies to book delivery at Mission Springs for home-bound elders?  What do we need to do to determine the best future for our library?

Publishers' Note: While many questions are posed in the last paragraph, their intent is to begin the thought process prior to having a public discussion in a meeting format.

 

 

 

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Comments (1)

I find it amusing that we're asking whether we want to sink more money into an "aging" building when it's the (much) older part of the building that's still safe. If a 1985 building is "aging" to the point of uselessness, then the town should really consider who we're having do our building and/or think a bit longer term.

- Mark | 1/19/19 12:10 PM

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