It’s been five years since the John Jermain Memorial Library’s referendum for an $8 million building plan was voted down — by a resounding majority — and it seems that after a serious period of regrouping, the library is finally close to zeroing in on at least one plan for its future. Ultimatley, it will be the public that decides that future.
Five years ago, the library’s proposal included both a new building on the property by Mashashimuet Park and a renovation of the old structure. We recall that there were several reasons why the proposal went down in defeat. Some people weren’t convinced of the need for two libraries, others feared the hefty price tag or felt that the library hadn’t reached out to the community in order to reach consensus. Then there were those who simply believed the library board lacked a clear vision of how the beloved old building would be used.
The irony, of course, is the drastic way in which the economy has changed in the intervening years. We feel that this new reality has taught everyone to re-evaluate priorities, and now, with the 20-20 vision of hindsight and a prudent hand on the tiller, the library can finally find a happy medium.
In June, a new referendum will be on the ballot. What type of referendum it will be, the library has yet to decide, but if it’s a conditional referendum, residents will be asked to vote on one of three options —moving forward with repairs and a good size expansion to the current structure, building a second building at the park and expanding and making repairs to the old structure, or doing nothing at all. Should the board opt to put forth a phased referendum, residents would vote only on whether repair work should be done at the library along with a modest expansion.
Regardless of the referendum put forth and the final outcome of a public vote, we like the library’s approach this time around, and are happy to see that a great deal of thought and effort has gone into thinking through the process of how the current building can not only be repaired and upgraded, but even expanded. Yes, a lot has changed in five years — including attitudes. While we often got the sense back then that there could never be enough space found at the current location to satisfy the facility’s burgeoning needs, the library’s new director, Cathy Creedon, has given her assurances that an expansion on site would give her enough room to run a fantastic library. Design is something we’ll comment on later.
Regardless of whether a new building at the park is something that might become a reality in the coming months or years, we like the fact that the expansion and repair of the existing space appears to be the primary priority and feel it is one that is appropriate for the economic climate. Not only does it address the library’s immediate demands for comfort and safety, but also demonstrates to the community that the library board is truly concerned about protecting the historic structure.
For us, doing nothing at all is not an option and there is no question that the 201 Main Street location is in dire need of repair. As builder Victor Conseco demonstrated with his carbon dioxide meter, if nothing is done the building would not only be cramped, but more importantly, unsafe.
The library board has learned a lot while on this five year journey and has approached this process in a measured and thoughtful way – clueing in and including the public at every step. After years of dreaming big, many of us realize that focusing on the task at hand is a better way to proceed. Hunkering down to protect what we have instead of whining about what we do not have is a wise course of action in troubled times and one that served both pioneers and puritans well. In this case anyway, we can learn a lot from our forbearers.Â
And when it comes to libraries, one that’s “fantastic” is certainly good enough for us.