Guilford library looks anew at adding space

Library trustees weigh options after voters reject fund for expansion - including a possibility of using the Guilford Meeting House next door

GUILFORD — Guilford Free Library trustees, meeting last month for their first meeting since a proposed library expansion plan was re-voted and defeated, hope to move forward with a new plan for renovation.

According to minutes for the trustees' June 20 meeting, Town Administrator Peder Rude has said the trustees can move forward with an addition if a proposal to do so is approved by library trustees and the Selectboard and if it doesn't require town money.

Librarian Cathi Wilken says that the library has about $140,000 in the bank and that voters over the past several years have already appropriated $300,000 for a building renovation project to address a space crunch and accessibility issues.

A $1.2 million expansion proposal was passed by 15 votes at Annual Town Meeting March 1, but it was defeated by 30 votes in a May 24 revote.

The revote came after 10 percent of the town's registered voters signed a petition requesting it. The article was exactly as first presented, asking for a $205,000 bond to help pay for the project and that the town reallocate $195,000 in unused money originally allocated to a water project that was paid for by other means.

Meeting minutes note each trustee was asked about thoughts moving forward. Wilken has said she hopes to go ahead with the full project after further fundraising. Minutes state she has also been “considering an alternative plan that wouldn't cost as much, which would have just a second floor with no stairs and elevator.”

Trustee John Shaw, according to meeting minutes, agrees there is a need for space and agrees to move forward with an addition to the existing floor plan, but “not rapidly and sees the value of doing another [public relations] campaign around it so as not to ignite resentment.”

Trustee Nika Fotopulos also agreed to pursue more space if needed, but advocates a cautious approach after the two votes and “public concerns even amidst the misinformation.” Minutes note she would like to see “consideration of other alternatives, with more transparency and input from the public along the way.”

Echoing their thoughts, board Co-Chair Judith Serkin, minutes reflect, “feels we made a mistake in not communicating and sharing the excitement and possibilities of the project sooner. Accessibility is a very important aspect of the library addition, and she wishes we could reach out with that message with more success.”

Saying he believes “Guilford has been targeted by a Republican strategy,” Trustee Richard Wizansky, minutes say, feels misinformation is “rampant” and that the group should hire a fundraising consultant.

He is also interested in looking at “connecting the Meeting House to the Library as a possible plan,” referencing the 1837 Guilford Center Meeting House next door.

Co-chair Laura Lawson Tucker said, as reported in the minutes, that she is thinking about the next election of the Selectboard, when Wizansky apparently plans not to seek re-election and Verandah Porch is up for re-election.

Minutes note that the trustees need to arrive at a consensus before taking any plan for an addition to the Selectboard and may want to “look at ways to propose and get public input on several plan Bs. Any proposal could be presented to the Planning Commission before the Selectboard for further town input.”

Meeting House/Library considerations

The notion of connecting the Meeting House and Library with an enclosed, covered, and unheated walkway was also discussed.

Resident Linda Hay offered a sketch of what it might look like. A retired librarian, Hay noted in the minutes that preservation groups want such structures to be “living and active space[s], not a museum or abandoned.”

Under this scenario, the Meeting House would house the adult services collection. The front of the sanctuary would remain with a platform and a few pews to host small events.

However, the building needs several repairs, including improved insulation and roof and ceiling repair. Since the Library has running water and a viable septic system, connecting it to the Meeting House might resolve a restroom issue. The walkway might also be a place to display art.

Connecting the two buildings would require Selectboard approval to acquire the Meeting House from the Guilford Historical Society and ultimately a Town Meeting vote.

Chuck Collins, a trustee of the historical society, confirmed to The Commons that the organization has been communicating with the library about these possibilities.

The historical society is exploring the use “as part of the stewardship of the building, which has been underused,” Collins said.