ATTLEBORO -- Libraries are used for research, and those who are charged with determining what should be done with the city’s 112-year-old library have decided that’s exactly what they need to do before they make a recommendation to Mayor Paul Heroux about its fate.
The city's municipal building commission has authorized spending up to $28,000 for an architectural firm to study the matter and come up with a variety of options that include renovations to the current building or the construction of new one.
The Boston firm of Bargmann Hendrie + Archtype Inc. was given the task.
Last month, consultant Alex Cohen submitted a report to the commission estimating that it could cost the city up to $14 million to replace important library infrastructure such as heating and cooling equipment, install a new roof, repair windows and other exterior features, while renovating the interior to make it more user friendly and efficient.
He recommended renovation over the construction of a new building.
However, that decision has yet to be made and some arguments for old and new were bandied about at a recent commission meeting. But the panel is not rushing into a decision.
Chairman Jack Jacobi said time needs to be taken. “It’s a process. You don’t make these decisions quickly,” he said.
Nonetheless, he noted the building continues to deteriorate and construction costs are going up, so it's also important to act with as much speed as possible.
“Every winter the building goes through, it gets worse,” he said. “The building is deteriorating. We’ll have to come up with a plan in the next few months about what we want to do.”
Library trustees President Charles Oliver said developing options is a good idea.
“It makes sense to look at all possible alternatives before making a recommendation about what we think is best,” he said.
Library Director Christine Johnson said library use and book publishing are both on the upswing, so the need for renovations or a new building is there.
She didn’t have a preference for old or new.
“I can see it working well both ways,” she said. “Wherever we put it, they will come.”
Some commission members did have strong opinions.
Gerry Fricot suggested that the city would waste money by sinking $14 million into the building because the city’s assessing department puts its monetary value at just $2 million.
He said the library should be sold and the proceeds used to cut the price of a new building, which Cohen said could cost as much as $17.5 million.
“I have hard time swallowing it,” he said of extensive renovations. “You wouldn’t spend $14,000 to fix your car (worth $2,000) would you?”
Another member, Eddie Porreca, argued that the building has more than just monetary value.
But he also argued that it’s possible with state aid to get the total cost of a new building to around $8 million -- the amount city officials were told months ago it would cost to fix the roof, the exterior and HVAC problems.
However, the state is not funding library projects at this time.
Library board member Diane Mangiaratti came down on the side of a new building, arguing the present one is laden with "barriers," such as stairs inside and an undersized parking lot outside. Most of the lot's spaces cost money to park in.
“The parking lot is a huge barrier to people using (the library),” she said.
Mangiaratti said she envisions a new one-floor library in Highland Park with a “humungous parking lot."