Library hits basement snag but moves ahead

By Mark Kobzik
and Chea Waters Evans

Designers for the new Pierson Library have nixed the idea of adding a basement to the project after discovering that it would be much more expensive than expected.

And they say they have found a fix that shouldn’t cost extra.

Library Director Kevin Unrath said that geotechnical analysis on the project site revealed very poor soils that would have meant an additional $150,000 to $200,000 if the construction included a basement.

In November, voters approved bonding for up to $6.5 million to build a new public library, renovate the adjacent historic Town Hall, and make improvements to the municipal campus for safety, traffic and access.

The original construction plan would have created an unfinished basement under the new library structure to be set aside for future programming or collections expansion for the Shelburne Historical Society. Some mechanical systems would have been located in the basement too, Unrath said.

But, looking to avoid increasing the cost of the already $3.9 million library portion of the project, designers looked at the plans to figure out how to build a similar amount of space without going underground.

Unrath said architects have adjusted the plans to allow the mechanical systems to be located on the second floor. To add more usable space, architects will expand the perimeter of the building outward by three to five feet, creating more room for storage and public space on both levels, he said.

The Historical Society currently has no formal space in the library or town hall, but the new building allows for what Unrath calls a “museum-style” display on the second floor. Display cases will allow the Historical Society to share with the public what is currently stored in their vault.

“It’s not just books and historical documents, but also a place to display objects,” Unrath said. The initial project plan called for the Historical Society to use space in the existing basement, which is the current children’s library area, under the historic Town Hall.

The second-floor space is smaller than what the original plans would have offered for the Historical Society, but Unrath said it makes more sense for the Society’s collections to be near the non-fiction section of the library on the second floor.

Architects envision the basement of the historic Town Hall as future space for social functions and plans include space for a kitchen, which will be used as a meeting space and staff room for library personnel. It will also be used for the popular cookbook book clubs that regularly meet in the library. They currently use a small refrigerator and a microwave, but the new kitchen will include a larger refrigerator and a stove.

Unrath said the new plans allow for better layout on the main floors while not going over budget. Construction is set to begin in April and will take a full year. In the meantime, the library continues to search for an interim location, Unrath said. Finding an appropriate space is a challenge in part because the temporary library needs to comply with requirements set by the Americans with Disabilities Act, and finding rental space that meets those needs and is large enough and local is not an easy task. Unrath said he is optimistic that they will find an appropriate space in time to move in April.

Another development is fundraising progress for the project. A fundraising push soon after Thanksgiving netted $40,000, all of which will be matched by the anonymous donor who has pledged to match up to $500,000 in donations.

Unrath said there is a dedicated committee of fundraisers focused on ensuring that the full matchable amount is raised. Town officials have explained that fundraising dollars will be put toward the project cost, reducing the final amount to be raised by the bond issue that voters approved and will repay with tax dollars.

Unrath said the planning process has good momentum now with a team meeting weekly to work on details. Interested community members are welcome to take part, he added.

“Every time that we look at the project again and make some revisions, I think it’s becoming a better and better project,” Unrath said. “I think the community is going to be really excited.”

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