Sep. 18—MANCHESTER — After the group finalized its report this month, the 21st Century Public Library Task Force met with the Board of Directors this week to highlight its findings and explain what is needed for a new town library.
The Mary Cheney Library building on Main Street is aging but continues to be a fixture in town and heavily used, even last year during the COVID-19 pandemic. Resident Stephen Ristau, chair of the task force, met with the Board of Directors on Tuesday to review what the group has done over the last several months. He said Mary Cheney Library is "one of the most heavily trafficked buildings in town."
"The time to act is now," Ristau said of the need and opportunity for a new library in town.
In December 2020, the Board of Directors renewed discussions about upgrading the town's library system.
Then in January, the board commissioned a new subcommittee of the Public Library Board, the 21st Century Public Library Task Force, to go on a fact-finding mission exploring what an upgraded library facility and system would look like.
Since then, the task force reviewed earlier studies and plans regarding the library done from 2010 to 2014, toured other libraries in the state, and referred to other pertinent studies and public input.
The task force gave three suggestions for possible locations of a new library: the Tong Building on Main Street; the land on North Main Street including and surrounding the current Whiton Branch Library; and the former Shaw's/Save-a-Lot location on the corner of Broad and Center streets.
Among other recommendations, the task force said that Manchester's main library needs to be larger than Mary Cheney Library by a factor of three, at approximately 83,000 square feet. The new building should have adequate parking, flexible space design for multipurpose uses, private and group meeting and workspaces, and sustainable "green" design with efficient building systems, the task force said in its report.
Mayor Jay Moran said many of the task force's suggestions are things town staff have had on their minds as well. Several directors said they were impressed with the findings.
"This is great work," Moran said. "It is an exciting report and it shows a lot of hard work."
A survey was also available online for residents to contribute their comments, and the task force was at several events in town to allow the public to share their ideas in-person. Among other requests, residents asked that the library be inclusive and accessible to all residents in town. Parking issues and cluttered, overcrowded aisles are also issues at the current facility.
"Throughout our process, residents of Manchester have made their aspirations and ideas clear and resounding," Ristau said. "They envision a Manchester Public Library where patrons will participate in enriching programs, engage in community conversations, and discover ways to improve their lives."
Talks for a new or upgraded library have happened in the past, but no large overhaul of the facility has taken place. The last time the Mary Cheney Library was expanded was in 1962, according to library officials.
"Manchester has the sixth-oldest library in the state based on the date of last major construction," Ristau said
A referendum on proposed renovations to Mary Cheney Library failed in 2012, but there has still been agreement that the library needs to be revamped.
The 2012 referendum failed largely because plans called for expanding the building in Center Memorial Park, which drew opposition.
Moran said that the Board of Directors would digest the information presented to them and speak more at length about potential next steps during next month's meeting.
"There's a lot of work to be done if there was a possibility of going up for a referendum a year from now," Moran said.
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