28 Sep Valley News – Patrons, officials consider options to renova…
LEBANON — Challenges facing the Lebanon Public Library are clear to the patrons and librarians who make frequent use of the downtown building.
The library, which dates back to 1909 and grew with an addition in the 1980s, doesn’t have enough bathrooms; there’s too few spots to meet and work; and a confusing layout often makes it difficult for first-time visitors to navigate the building’s three floors.
However, solving those problems is proving a difficult task for architects charged with exploring how to best utilize the nearly 8,000-square-foot space.
Library backers and employees who were presented with plans this week appeared skeptical of ideas to reorganize the building, saying such moves might inconvenience parents who frequent the library with their children and reduce the space available for books.
“Where can we get more stack space?” Amy Lapping, deputy director of the Lebanon Libraries, asked at a public meeting Monday about the plans after reviewing a proposal to move the circulation desk into what is now the library’s fiction collection.
“We’re not opposed to moving the circulation desk there … but then where do we go (to find space for books)? I don’t know,” she said.
Officials began discussing a potential library renovation in 2010, when the Kilton Public Library opened its doors in West Lebanon, according to Lebanon Libraries Director Sean Fleming.
The West Lebanon library is more user friendly and presented opportunities downtown as employees moved their offices across town, he said.
“We want to transform a lot of these spaces kind of like what we have at Kilton,” Fleming told a group of about 10 people gathered at the Lebanon Public Library’s teen room. “There’s a lot of space (there) for the patrons to use.”
Jason LaCombe, an architect at the Concord-based firm SMP Architecture, said there’s several ways the city could increase its space for patrons, starting with rearranging the sections.
The children’s area could move upstairs, which would provide families roughly the same amount of space they now have, and a teen room could be built off the existing balcony that overlooks the first floor.
Then, the library could move its circulation desk to the middle section of the first floor and stacks of books would take up what’s now the children’s area, LaCombe said.
“The idea of consolidating the adult stack space would make it a little easier for reshelving, it would make browsing easier (and) it would put everything in one area that hopefully is reasonably convenient,” he said.
Those changes would reopen to patrons the historic library reading rooms, which date back to 1909.
Patrons could also make use of two small meeting rooms that would be converted from offices, LaCombe said.
“We want to try to not only highlight but work with the historic presence,” he said, adding it’s important to restore the building’s front entrance area to match its “cherished” history as one of the state’s nine operating Carnegie libraries.
LaCombe also proposed expanding the vestibule in the basement so that the space would appear more public, saying it can be daunting for those coming down what staff and patrons call either the “ghost” or “haunted” stairs in the front of the building.
The downstairs meeting room could be flipped with staff space so people don’t interrupt one another, and a bathroom would be added as well.
“The idea we’ve been working on is trying to get a restroom on every floor,” LaCombe said.
But some worried that the architect’s proposal would face pushback, especially from parents who would have to take their children upstairs.
“If there’s an emergency and the elevator cannot be used, how are you going to get all of those kids down that stairway,” asked Library Trustee Susan Weber Valiante.
LaCombe said children and adults who could not walk on their own would have to be carried in an emergency. While the building doesn’t have sprinklers, paper isn’t considered a major fire hazard as it doesn’t burn well, he added.
Lebanon resident Don Lowry said it is “charming” that parents and children can access the children’s section from the ground floor in the library’s current configuration.
“It’s easy to get out of, if you’re a 3-to-7-year-old or a mom who is pushing a baby carriage,” he said.
LaCombe replied that children’s sections are destinations, which parents typically seek out no matter where they’re located. He pointed to the teen room on the second floor, which he described as one of the most well used he’s ever seen.
“When you’ve got the kids area in the heart of where everything else wants to be, and it’s a destination, it just seems like a potential ‘let’s move it someplace else,’ ” LaCombe said.
Library officials said it’s too early to say how much the plans might cost, and that they’re looking to finalize the proposal before pricing it out.
LaCombe intends to review notes from the meeting and come back to Library Trustees with updated plans for the building in the coming months. Officials say they’ll then hold more public events before beginning fundraising for any renovation.
Tim Camerato can be reached at [email protected] or 603-727-3223.