Iconic Blackstone Library To Expand

With PermissionThe James Blackstone Memorial Library is kicking off a capital campaign to raise funds for a renovation project that will bring the iconic 1896 library into the 21st century.

“It’s an iconic building in our town. It’s beloved,” Library director Karen Jensen said during a press conference Tuesday morning. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t meet the needs of a 21st century library.”

Plans call for a 2,000 square-foot addition on the ground floor, and reconfiguration of many interior spaces throughout the library. The distinctive front entrance and steps will remain the same. 

Diana Stricker PhotoJensen and development consultant Ron Katz, pictured above, are inviting the Branford community to help make the library more functional and more relevant.

The total project cost is estimated at $4.8 million, including $1 million from the state; and $3 million from the town’s capital budget.

The goal of the capital campaign is $800,000.

“The capital campaign is really significant because it will show the town’s commitment to the project, and hopefully it will demonstrate that people in the community feel it’s a worthwhile project by supporting it,” Katz said.

Jensen said if all goes well, construction could begin as early as the spring of 2018. She said work would be done in phases so the library could remain open.

A Strategic Plan

With PermissionTalks about expanding or renovating the library have been ongoing for years. 

When Jensen took over as director four years ago, there was already a strategic plan and a needs assessment in place. Four major challenges were identified — the children’s and teens’ areas are not adequate;  there are only 21 public computers; meeting space is limited; and the rear entrance is not as functional as it could be.

With PermissionThe addition will feature a covered walk-way and entrance from the parking lot, a lobby, a circulation desk, and new restrooms.

The roof of the addition will serve as a terrace which can be accessed from the first-floor auditorium. It will be open to the public, and used for special events. “It’s a smart utilization of outdoor space,” Jensen said.

A major interior change involves moving the children’s services from the top floor to the ground floor to provide better access. There will also be space for teen activities. There will be a family bathroom in the children’s area, and bathrooms will also be added on the first floor.

A Reconfigured Top Floor

The adult fiction area will remain on the ground floor, and the non-fiction and staff offices will be moved to the top floor.

The auditorium on the first floor will be larger because the kitchen and storage space will be moved to the top floor. There will also be new meeting rooms on the top floor.

“We get so many requests for meeting space that we have to turn down all the time,” Jensen said, adding that the new designs will allow more space and flexibility.

Jensen said the expansion won’t necessitate more staffing, because the realignment will be more efficient, with staff on each floor.

“There will be a service desk in the middle of the rotunda which will be large enough to incorporate a reference and circulation staff, so we won’t have two staffs scattered. There will be one point of service, which will be more functional and better for the patrons to ask for help,” Jensen said.

More computers will be added in the youth areas and in the reference area, for a total of about 32 computers.

Jensen displayed drawings of the new designs during a power-point presentation. The new plans are available on the library’s web site, with a link to an aerial tour of how the building will look.

“This shows you how the addition will look against the building. It’s small and doesn’t ruin the iconic silhouette,” Jensen said.

Silver/Petrucelli Associates of Hamden are working to finalize the designs.

Raising Money

Katz, the independent development consultant, said the $4.8 million cost is considerably less than previous estimates as the project was evolving. He said the state has committed $1 million, if matching pledges are secured by March 2018. He said that funding is not contingent on the state’s budget.

Katz said library officials will request $3 million from the town’s capital budget, and will continue talking with town officials over the coming year.

The Friends of the Library has committed $25,000 to the project; the Board of Trustees has pledged about $30,000; and three bequests totaling $120,000 were made by private individuals during the past year.

Katz said the fund-raising committee will be meeting with individuals, groups, civic organizations and businesses during the coming weeks and months. He said the committee has already met with the Branford Community Foundation and will be working with them.

“People are really excited about this,” Jensen said.

Space at a Premium

Diana Stricker PhotoJensen (pictured) said the proposed interior reconfiguration would not be possible without the addition. “Space in this building is really at a premium,” she said. She is pictured here at the entryway to the library. 

The proposed project will increase the library’s technology and it will also increase spaces for social interaction and educational purposes. And there will still be quiet places for people who just want to read.

“Our book circulation remains steady,” Jensen said. “People still like books.”

The Blackstone Library has 10,000 registered card-holders, and an average daily attendance between 500 and 600 people. About 9,000 children attended library programs last year, and about 5,000 adults attended events in the library’s auditorium. The library collections feature 85,000 items including books, audio-visual, newspapers, magazines and other media.

The literature about the capital campaign includes the following paragraph:

The James Blackstone Memorial Library is the jewel of the Branford community, a singular community resource which draws people of all ages together for learning, growing and sharing. The iconic and visually striking building reminds us of a time when investing in one’s community was not an obligation but an honor.”

The campaign committee is hoping people still feel that way. Additional information and pledge options can be found on the library’s website.

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