Library Construction: How One Town Succeeded
As library services evolve and information needs change, library buildings require updating. When a town realizes its library not only falls short of meeting user needs but also requires expensive capital repairs, it makes sense to consider new library construction. This summer, I had the good fortune to visit the Millis Public Library, a newly constructed library which opened in 2013.
Millis is a rural town in Eastern Massachusetts with a population of approximately 8,000 and an estimated household income of $83,000. Although higher than the state average of $67,000, Millis’s household income average is lower than all of its neighboring communities. The Town of Millis saw an opportunity, got behind its library and created a state of the art facility that meets the needs of its community.
The former Millis Public Library was built in 1967 at a time when the town population was a fraction of the current population. Its 5,400 square feed had become inadequate for the town, and the building itself was showing signs of age. Major roof and ventilation repairs were near-future expenses for the town to contend with. At the same time, Millis was eligible for a state grant in excess of two million dollars to partially fund construction of a new library. The town’s Library Board led the rally to mobilize the residents and, in 2010, Residents of Millis voted to fund a new library with both a special ballot question and an overwhelming majority vote at the June 2010 town meeting.
Library Construction: What Does it Cost?
The Millis Public Library was budged at $7.7 million. Of that, $2.7 million was a state grant, and $5 million was financed by a 20 year debt exclusion which basically translated to a property tax increase for residents. Each household pays an average of $154 annually (based on home value), decreasing over the 20 year period to $89 in the final year.
Library Construction: The Process
The new library was designed by Boston firm Oudens Ello Architechture which was selected from a group of 14 applicants. Library newsletters kept residents apprised of each step of the process. Library Construction began at the end of 2011 and took approximately two-and-a-half years. The old Public Library was officially closed at the end of June 2013 and the new library opened a few weeks later. While the collection was moved to the new facility by professional book movers, the Town of Millis participated in a symbolic “library book brigade,” marking the move to the new building. The new Millis Public Library hosted a formal opening ceremony in September, 2013.
Library Construction: How to Pay for New Furnishings
Not only did the residents of the town vote to fund the building, the town has rallied around the library in amazing ways. The Friends of the Millis Public library paid for the computers, the TV system, the furniture, throw rugs, desks, and Friends room furnishings. A local business owner paid for the ADA compliant automatic door at the entrance, and a resident (a qualified electrician) installed it. A local business donated the plantings in the outdoor space and a resident maintains the grounds.
The Friends of the Millis Public Library conducted their first ever capital campaign and raised $150,000 to furnish the building. “One of the ways they raised that money was by allowing community members to sponsor a book stack for $250,” says Alex Lent, Library Director. “Millis isn’t a rich town, but it is a town that cares about its library; within two weeks, every single stack was sponsored, so today, if you walk through the library, you’ll see a nameplate on every stack.” Alex admits that the new building was certainly a draw when he applied for the position of library director, but, “the effort Millis undertook to get the new library was even more of a draw.”
Library Construction: The (Amazing) End Result
What did they create? The LEED certified green building is flexibly designed with ample space for children, young adults and general collection users. It has a large event space that can easily be used outside of traditional library hours as it can be separated from more traditional library spaces.
It is beautifully furnished and meets community needs. Alex reports that the average annual number of visitors in the three years that the old library was in operation was about 64,000. Since the new building has opened the average annual number of visitors has increased about 45% to 92,000! Circulation is up 20% and the library now produces 69% more programs–like an after school computer programming class, late night study weeks during exam periods, a concert series and a weekly news gathering–with an increased program attendance of 68%. And, about 20% more residents have obtained library cards since the new facility opened. That sounds like success to me.