Attleboro Library Exterior

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

“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”

— Jorge Luis Borges

For more than a century, Attleboro’s library has stood on North Main Street, a testament to the community’s belief in itself, its faith in its future and commitment to knowledge for everyone.

It’s a faith it proclaims, quite literally carved in stone, over the ornate main doorway: “Free To All.”

And while it may be free to all, a library is not free for the city. A trained staff has to be paid, the lights have to be kept on and, of course, books have to be bought. And, as the city of Attleboro has learned, a 112-year-old building has to be maintained.

According to a consulting firm, Cohen Associates of New York, hired by the city to assess the library’s needs, a renovation could cost an estimated $12.4 million to $14 million, depending on what the city thinks that it could afford.

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

And before anyone says that it’s time to move the library to a new, modern facility, take note that a new library would cost an estimated $17.5 million, the consulting firm has said.

The current library, with its 35,000 square feet, is big enough for Attleboro’s needs but the space could be used more efficiently, the consultant told city officials this week.

And while it’s still early in the decision-making process, we hope the municipal building commission takes seriously Cohen Associate’s recommendation that the library be renovated rather than abandoned.

Attleboro has been too willing to see pieces of its architectural history vanish — the loss of the historic Tappan House still rankles with many — although the determination of city officials to ensure that the character of the former high school on County Street is preserved after its sale is a hopeful sign.

A city like Attleboro has many demands on its resources. A community that has made a substantial commitment toward the construction of a new $260 million high school may reasonably have questions on whether it can take on an additional capital expense.

But a city that does not have an active, well-managed public library that provides not only educational resources but a space for community events, has lost an important part of itself.

City officials are optimistic that, with careful planning, Attleboro can manage to keep the building on North Main Street a part of the community for another 100 years.

One of the recommendations of Cohen Associates is to work to restore the grand entrance to the library that faces North Main Street. We hope so. We’d like to see people enter their library under the inscription that says, “Free To All.”

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