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Voters will consider funding a major addition to the Guilford Free Library. In the background, next door, is the Guilford Center Meetinghouse.

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Guilford to consider $1.2 million library expansion

Separate activity center for kids planned with access to outdoors; voters to address the issue at Town Meeting in March

GUILFORD—Annual Town Meeting voters will consider borrowing $205,000 and using $195,000 that the town had set aside for water improvements to help pay for an $1.2 million addition to the Guilford Free Library to alleviate cramped conditions for both books and patrons.

Both the Selectboard and Finance Committee support the project, which has been two years in the making.

If all goes well, construction on the library, at Guilford Center and Carpenter Hill roads, is hoped to start in 2023.

At a Feb. 2 informational meeting via Zoom, about a dozen residents heard and saw the plan to add about 2,000 square feet to the 1891 clapboard building and remove the 100-square-foot addition built in 2004.

Designer Isaac Wagner — who, along with architects Jeff Goldstone and Jack Byer of Goldstone Architects in Bennington, designed the new addition — noted that at first is was uncertain it could be done on the relatively small site next to the Guilford Center (Universalist) Meetinghouse and close to the Guilford Historical Society and Broad Brook Community Center.

With a combination of funding sources — including the Friends of the Guilford Free Library and the town, as well as from a federally funded Community Development Block Grant of $4,919 — a feasibility study and full environmental review took place in summer 2021, complete with archeological digging and more.

“At the end of the day, we felt like we could build an addition to the library that is universally accessible on both levels, that we could permit, that would be safe, and that we had the room for,” said Wagner.

Librarian Cathi Wilken hopes to have the current space crunch relieved to better serve patrons.

“As I was trying to move the computer so I could do a valentine workshop today, I had a struggle with a bunch of snowshoes that are in the way,” she said. “There’s no room for anything in here, and the shelves are really packed. We really need more space.”

“I do like the design because it’s not big and cavernous, it just gives us space to move,” Wilken said.

Wilken estimates the current 4,000-book collection at the library — jammed into shelves so closely that when one pulls one volume out, several more accompany it — can be doubled when the new space is created.

A study showed that over the past two years, an average of 12 to 15 patrons visit the library. In pre-Covid days in 2019, that number was more than 40 per day.

Plan would add to building with ‘significant historic value’

The proposed potential addition plan to the library is currently at 60 percent design completion, although not set entirely in stone. The town has about the same percentage of money in hand to build it.

The library is one of the oldest continuously operating public libraries in Vermont. It was founded in 1890 per a bequest from Cynthia King, who left money to the town to buy books with the caveat that the town also had to build or somehow acquire a building to keep them in.

That building was erected on land owned by William Barney for $300, and the Guilford Free Library opened on July 2, 1892, although historical annals indicate the town maintained a small, public library from 1790 to 1815.

The 1892 library’s original structure is a wood frame on a brick-and-stone foundation with clapboard siding and slate roof.

The 2004 addition to the back of the building was placed on a reinforced concrete base and provided a second entry/egress.

The library is not listed on any historic registry but “has significant historic value,” the architects say, noting it could be, along with the nearby meetinghouse and other structures, part of a historic district.

Currently, while the basement first floor is very sound and fully insulated, as is the attic, the only way to get to it is by going outdoors. Also on the site is a shed that houses skis and snowshoes for residents’ use.

The proposal includes a two-story addition on the back of the building with room for expansion and a room or two for private conversations/videoconferencing: “a quiet space — plus an indoor activity space for children that can be accessed separately even when the library is not open,” the architects describe.

The designs include “an elevator, restrooms, upgraded electrical and HVAC systems and storage [...] as are any mandated code upgrades,” they note.

The addition has been designed, architects say, “in a way to show it is a modern structure but not overtake the existing historic structure — but [rather] complement it.”

A water well directly in back of the building affects where the addition can be placed. Designers wanted to preserve as much of the side yard as possible while also keeping the space between the library and the Meetinghouse.

The plan includes two additional disabled-parking spaces at the lower level and new walkways plus an entrance plaza and back patio with access to the activity area and yard.

The second floor of the two-story addition includes cathedral ceilings with a lot of natural light and a central work area. It features energy-efficient equipment and ventilation with wide fiber-cement siding and a metal roof.

“The design was intended to accommodate an overworked library space [and] the programs the library also offers,” said Byers, adding that making it accessible was also of primary importance.

The original building is about 770 square feet with 100 square feet in the 2004 addition.

That addition would be removed, and 965 square feet added to the lower level and 1,073 to the upper level.

The money

While the total project cost is estimated at $1,206,324, the town has 60 percent of the money to pay for it already in hand. Plans exist to raise funds for the remaining 40 percent, if voters agree to the plan at annual meeting.

To do so, they are being asked to allow the town to borrow $205,000 and to use $195,000 already in the bank. That money, explained Town Administrator Peder Rude, came about 12 years ago when residents approved a bond for a housing project in Algiers Village.

In the end, that project received other funding to complete a water line, and the town never used the approved money. Because it has previously been approved for a different specific use, to use it for the library expansion voters must reauthorize it for a new use.

About 12 percent of the cost ($140,000) is expected to come from the Friends group, and about 22 percent in grants and tax credits ($269,566). It is hoped fundraising will bring in about 0.6 percent, or $73,758.

The anticipated cost breakdown is $968,430 in construction costs and $237,894 in anticipated design, development, and fundraising.

Solar array in the offing?

Installation of a solar array was brought up at the Zoom meeting, and Goldstone said it was considered and could be easily added. He said there is no point in adding solar if it won’t reduce costs, adding that upfront costs can be “substantial” and the payback cost in Vermont generally comes in seven to eight years, after rebates and tax credits.

The town would have to find out if it can use or sell any tax credits. He added the town could also benefit by leasing space to a solar developer who would install the array.

“I was initially extremely surprised and concerned about the cost,” said Anne Rider, who added that examining what is actually being asked of taxpayers has changed her mind.

The Finance Advisory Board member and former Selectboard chair now feels that Guilford residents are “getting a helluva good bang for our buck.”

Describing the library as “kind of the soul of our town” and “the center of a lot of learning and a lot of community involvement,” Rider spoke in support of the project.

“I think it’s exciting, and I hope it happens,” she said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #650 (Wednesday, February 9, 2022). This story appeared on page A1.

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