Task force recommends Manchester build new library

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Sep. 9—MANCHESTER — The 21st Century Public Library Task Force is recommending the town build a new library and has suggested three possible locations for it.

The task force will present its report and findings to the Board of Directors next Tuesday.

The task force concluded that sustaining a downtown Main Street connection for the Manchester Public Library, either with a main or branch library, is optimal, but expansion of the current Mary Cheney Library isn't feasible.

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 work spaces, and sustainable "green" design with efficient building systems, the task force said in its report.

"The severe lack of space — only 26,135 square feet at Mary Cheney and 12,367 at Whiton — limits the library's ability to offer simultaneous programs for patrons across the lifespan, exhibits and performances, community conversations and debates, civic engagement forums, and popular author lectures," the task force wrote in its report.

The task force said there were three locations suggested by the community that are worth more exploration: 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.

The task force recommends that the town should prepare necessary site analyses, architectural designs, and cost estimates in anticipation of putting funding for a new public library building on a fall 2022 bond referendum.

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 has reviewed earlier studies and plans regarding the library done from 2010 to 2014 and other pertinent studies and public input.

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.

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.

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.

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.

For updates on Manchester and Bolton, follow Skyler Frazer on Twitter: @SkyFraCT, Facebook: SkyFraCT, and Instagram: SkylerFrazerJI to stay updated on his latest articles.

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