Attleboro Library Exterior

The Attleboro Public Library: A neoclassic “beaux arts” style building opened 1907.

ATTLEBORO — The city’s public library could be in line for a major overhaul.

A consultant hired by the city recommended this week that the 112-year-old building, which was last overhauled in 1992, be renovated rather than abandoned.

“The idea of getting rid of the old building is not a great long-term strategy,” Alex Cohen of Aaron Cohen Associates from New York told a group of city officials gathered at the library Monday for a presentation of his findings.

And if the city were to abandon what’s a landmark structure on North Main Street, it should have a plan for its reuse or it will lie vacant and deteriorate for years to come, as has happened to other libraries, he said.

“If the plan is to move, there needs to be a good plan for what this building would be,” he said.

Cohen presented a number of ideas for the refurbishment of the interior which would make it more efficient and “community friendly.”

A renovation, which includes interior and exterior work, is estimated to cost from $12.4 million to $14 million, depending on how much the city wants to do or can afford.

About $8 million of the cost would be used to replace the HVAC system, roof and make repairs to the “building envelop.”

By contrast, a new library would cost an estimated $17.5 million, Cohen said.

City officials are only at the beginning of a decision making process, municipal building commission chairman Jack Jacobi said.

“We have a lot more to do to vet this proposal,” he said. “We have accepted nothing and will need several more meetings with the architect to understand what is proposed, and probably sort through several more potential scenarios.”

Mayor Paul Heroux, the municipal building commission, some members of the city council, library staff members including director Christine Johnson and members of the board of trustees, attended the presentation.

Heroux was optimistic the city will be able to afford a renovation because enough debt is being retired in the coming years to make room for more borrowing.

In addition, there are state grants for library renovations that could cut the cost to city taxpayers, he said.

In general, Cohen said the building is big enough, but the interior arrangement of its services is “dysfunctional.”

“The 35,000-square-foot size is right, but the utilization is bad,” he said.

For example, program benchmarks developed by Cohen Associates, which has specialized in library rehabilitation projects for decades, suggest that 65 percent of the interior be used for seating.

Currently, the number in Attleboro’s library is at 28 percent.

He said about 15 percent should used for staff offices. The city’s library uses about 40 percent for offices.

And ideally, about 20 percent of the space is used for collections. Currently that number is 32 percent.

That can be fixed, he said.

“I don’t think you need to move out,” Cohen said.

Cohen would increase the number of public spaces in the building to make it more community-oriented.

For example, he would increase the number of “study rooms” or small meeting spaces from two to as many as 15.

He would consolidate staff offices, move the children’s room to the top floor and possibly create a floor where a mezzanine currently exists.

Cohen recommended automating the check-out system.

He would also seek to make better use of the stately front entrance, its hallway and double staircase, possibly as an art gallery and “integrate it with a wi-fi garden.”

And architects would look at ways to make the front entrance, which has been closed for years, compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act so that it could be used again.

He would also reorganize the exterior grounds and parking lot.

George W. Rhodes can be reached at 508-236-0432.

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