School ruled out for new Edgartown library


The Edgartown library design committee has ruled out the old Edgartown school as a site for a new town library because the now vacant building would require significant structural improvements. The focus has returned to a plan to expand the current library facility within the North Water Street site.

According to committee chairman Chris Scott, engineers hired by the committee determined the elementary school site could not meet new building codes, which require substantially stronger construction for libraries than other public buildings.

“What we need to do to rehab the building for library purposes is to reinforce the floors, and remove interior load-bearing partitions,” Mr. Scott said in a phone conversation with The Times last week. “There would be a large cost premium. It seemed somewhat pointless as an option.”

He stressed the building can still be utilized. “There are other uses the building could be put to under the present building codes,” Mr. Scott said. “But libraries require this very high floor load for stacks of books.”

Consideration of the old school site was a divisive issue within the design committee, and between library trustees and selectmen. The development pleased the library foundation, charged with raising public funds for the project. “As the project moves forward, The Edgartown Library Foundation looks forward to working with the library trustees and the town to create and sustain an outstanding library for our community,” Gwyneth “Baba” Smith, foundation chairman, said in a statement.

At a design committee meeting November 16, architect Celia Imrey presented new parking schemes and floor plans for consideration, following a directive from the committee to scale down her original plans for the North Water Street site.

The latest drawings, still a work in progress, envision a large building attached to the rear of the current Carnegie building, another addition and outdoor courtyard to the side, and a 14-space parking lot where the Warren House now sits. The entire project totals 13,740 square feet of building space.

“We’ve done what you asked for,” Ms. Imrey said. “We’ve reduced the size of the building, and still tried to fit the program in. We’re really happy with the way the library is functioning. It’s not easy to design this building and still have the Carnegie feel like it’s alive.”

Children’s librarian and assistant library director Deborah MacInnis had sharp criticism about some of the design elements, and committee members had questions about the planned program room, as well as the latest parking configurations.

The committee directed Ms. Imrey to meet with the library operations staff next week to discuss use of the proposed spaces, then further refine the designs.

The committee also asked Ms. Imrey to modify the parking scheme to create an eight-foot setback from North Water Street.

Members acknowledged that the program room — space that might be used for library activities as well as after-hours meetings and events — is a challenging design problem.

“That’s the biggest area we’re going to have to make concessions in to stay within the square footage,” project manager Rick Pomroy told the committee. “The biggest battle is that program room, 1,800 square feet that we can’t afford, or find a place to put it.”

Complicating the issue are state guidelines that suggest a large program space, and nearly double the number of parking spaces in the latest drawings. Those elements will be a factor as Edgartown competes for a state grant to fund part of the project.

“My personal feeling,” said Mr. Scott, “is we should come up with the best plan for the site, and advocate for it.”

There was little discussion about the cost of the project, but the architect and committee members agreed the working cost estimate of $348 per square foot was probably not realistic.

“I think it starts and ends with the financial ability to do the project, which means the state grant is critical,” Mr. Scott said last week. “It’s going to be very competitive.”

The town must submit its grant application to the state, with complete design drawings, by January 23. Dozens of other Massachusetts communities, including West Tisbury, are expected to vie for available funds.

Last year Edgartown gave up a $4.6 million grant awarded by the state, when private fundraising for the previous library expansion plan, fell far short of its goals.

The town has already invested $3.5 million in the project, by purchasing the historic Warren House next to the library site. That building would be demolished under the latest site plan.