Note schedule change – architect presentation with new building committee and library trustees is Tuesday February 26.
ON Monday February 25, 2019 Saunders House Stewardship Committee, 10:30AM-noon
ON Tuesday February 26, 2019 there is a Library (new) Building Committee meeting 5:30 PM sharp – 7:30 PM. Please note schedule change, again. The monthly meetings announced were said to follow the traditional schedule of meeting on the last Wednesday of each month at 4:00 pm, but that has not happened as meetings have been combined with Trustee meetings, etc. Do confirm ahead: 01/30/2019, 02/27/2019 02/26/2019, 03/27/2019, 04/24/2019 LOCATION: confirm SFL location if Friend Room or one of two rooms upstairs/downstairs in Saunders. There may be other informal ad hoc meetings.
ON Wednesday February 27, 2019 the fundraising committee for the new building may be meeting but I’m fairly certain it’s not at 4-5am– just a little typo on the events calendar. Maybe it’s 4-5pm
ON Monday Jan 28 there is Saunders House Committee meeting 10:30 AM – 12:00 PM LOCATION: Byers/Davidson Room according to the library’s calendar. Additionally, The Saunders House Stewardship Committee, meets at 10:30 am on the third Monday of every month; confirm locations on the day. January 2019 was moved to January 14th because it would have fallen on Martin Luther King day.
ON Wed Jan 30 there is Library (new) Building Committee meeting 4:00 PM – 6:00 PM Then monthly: 01/30/2019, 02/27/2019, 03/27/2019, 04/24/2019 LOCATION: confirm if Friend Room or one of two rooms upstairs/downstairs in Saunders. There may be other informal ad hoc meetings–there was one scheduled at Dore & Whittier in December.
For your review – summary and scenes from the November 15, 2018 public meeting and recent headlines:
photo caption: Central Grammar apartments (left), City Hall (back), Sawyer Free library (right)
Approximately fifty attendees –including the library board and staff plus eight consultants from the firm, Dore & Whittier Project Management and Architecture— convened on the main floor of Gloucester Lyceum & Sawyer Free Public Library on November 15, 2018. Individuals from the Historical commission, Action Inc, Saunders House, Gloucester Green, a local middle school teacher, a Varian employee, library members and 3 teenagers were present.
I believe the light attendance was due to a feeling of repetition. The public meeting was billed as an opportunity to provide feedback to the library yet again. It turns out that the gathering was a required step in the next phase of the library building plans and as such was presented to be starting from square one. No matter how one tries to paint it, it’s not square one. “This is just a necessary step,” the consultants explained. “”It doesn’t matter.”
Since 2013, the library has facilitated and hired consultants to help with public forums related to the building and future plans. (Public and committee meetings, agendas, minutes, and strategic planning are requirements for grants and funding, not to mention big pursuits like new buildings or restoration). It is disconcerting that years of prior and extensive staff and public feedback are not aggregated and readied by the library board nor contracted consultants–especially as several in attendance were present at the January 11, 2017 meeting attended by 150+ that sent the building plans back to the drawing board.
That contentious January 2017 meeting was preceded by the corporators* meeting two weeks prior where feedback recommended recording and sharing public comments for transparency and efficiency and many of the same concerns were expressed.
*I am a library corporator and can attest that project updates have not been shared (albeit annual meetings) Corporators are a devoted library audience and might help.
In between the timing of that big 2017 meeting and this small 2018 one, the library pursued forums via ThinkGloucester facilitated by Gloucester Conversations for its strategic planning. At those forums, the library indicated that results would be shared in the fall of 2018. I was not the only one expecting those results linked on the homepage and printed out for the November 15th meeting. They weren’t. Following the meeting, a board member kindly shared the findings: Sawyer Free Library thinkGloucester Project Report_final 2018
State funding support for library buildings is guided by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners ( MBLC). In part because of the state’s toolkit funding process, the November 2018 meeting became a fresh start and first step, Phase 1. I was told that the architects and designers needed to hear feedback “first hand” which is reasonable until you establish that yes in fact most of them had been at that most well attended public meeting to date mentioned above (2017), and have been engaged by the library and worked with the library committees for years. Although that money is disassociated as part of the MBLC toolkit next phase, each purchase order (PO) for marketing/public relations (PR) and phases towards new building plans can affect the library’s bottom line, and take years. When I find them, I will link to the library’s letter of intent, a list of costs for consulting to date (phases or not), building related work, marketing completed since 2013, and for the fine art removed.
In 2013 top concerns included new bathrooms, more staff, the Saunders building, art & archives, and the HVAC systems. Here we are six years later: I can say there has been no change in the bathrooms. The library needs more staff. Voices to preserve the John and Dorothy Rando memorial garden have arisen. The teenagers at the November meeting hoped for new lighting. Perhaps that’s an easy renovation. After six years, the library may have saved some money and developed outreach by conducting a local design competition, fixing the bathroom, and hiring staff. We may have move forward together to MBLC instead of what feels like a never ending “stage one”.
MBLC supports new builds that adhere to a best practice formula and adjusts as no two libraries or communities are exactly the same. For instance, specific additional square footage from a current footprint, varied “programmable” spaces, adequate parking and public input are guidelines. I would suggest that money be spent on clerks/recorders for the public meetings and the library should insist on that from their consultants (whether Dore &Whittier or not). I would hope that new input at every stage continues to be updated and evaluated. Why is the focus on “green” LEED not parsing the MBLC parking spaces requirements? The Boston Public Library did away with them–we should expect no less. Some rural or smaller communities may need larger library builds and new visions to create a statement cultural public gathering spot where there hasn’t been one. (Although I think that’s unlikely in MA.) Our extant library has a variety of gathering spaces. And Gloucester is blessed with an abundance of large, special public spaces that work in concert with the library. City Hall, Cape Ann Museum, Temple Ahavat Achim, the YMCA, and the Gloucester Meetinghouse UU Church are essentially library abutters and can pack hundreds. The Legion, Rose Baker Senior Center and Maritime Gloucester are short blocks away. The library can move events to off-site locations when and if it’s mutually rewarding. Mostly it does OK in house. Gloucester’s population hovers 30,000 which is the same as it was at the time of the last expansion. Does our population require more space? According to sources in the paper and the meeting, the building plans remain many years out. The Massachusetts funding model has decreased and according to the MBLC press release issued Nov 2018, “The longer a community goes without being able to start its project, the higher the construction costs will be.” At what point do the costs outweigh options like renting if building lifespans are warrantied to a few decades expectancy? If the process requires construction this costly, perhaps the state can reimburse communities more money, quicker, and/or develop other models?
The current website does not have a “button” or menu selection for new building plans. You can select from the calendar to see some of the meetings announced. You can select About to explore more about the board committees and some minutes and agendas. Some meetings are linked into the City of Gloucester calendar, too.
Seeing double? Yes, you’re supposed to. The Sawyer Free Library addition was designed to mirror Cape Ann Museum as a balanced and nuanced architectural symmetry in deference to City Hall, and catalyst for a graceful center.
Sawyer Free Library has announced a public meeting January 11th for discussions of a new building. (See the flyer at the end of this post.)
City Hall may have some upcoming construction on the Dale Avenue side as well.
Both projects are largely in the name of accessibility of a physical nature. Can they be cost effective, worthy of our history and culture, protect our significant buildings, and address current and future needs? The following are some of the issues, local coverage, links to resources, and archival material for your interest.
HANDICAP PARKING SPACES BY CITY HALL- Do we have enough?
Although there are several new handicap parking spaces along Dale Avenue by City Hall, carving out the landscape on the left for more spots is in the cards because of grant money. Why? Several people told me that Dale Avenue parking spaces are hazardous for anyone exiting on the street. Although I do not want to minimize any pressing needs, I still ask, “Really?” Have we become so car dependent we would rather a thoroughfare here than the elegant streetscape we have (once a tree lined walk from the train station.) I was also told that it will increase visitation counts. It is an unfair advantage that historic sites with access to more funding (Monticello, Smithsonian, Colonial Williamsburg, and more) are better equipped to face these seemingly no-win situations. But there are creative retrofitting options for Gloucester, too. Universal design is about balance, not chasing funding sources at the expense of preservation and beauty, nor backwards planning.
NEW LIBRARY 2016. And 1973.
Before the current 2015-16 library outreach, the library hosted extensive visioning sessions throughout 2013. I went to a couple, and I was invited to take part in a focus group (on schools and the library.) A completely new library and jettisoning of the historic Saunders library building was not an expressed community value. What were some common discussion points? A strategy for digitization of historic archives and newspapers, more staff, more hours of operation (Sundays), better bathrooms, parking issues, air conditioning, electrical work, maintenance, security, maximizing technology/ content access with schools, ditto Cape Ann TV, and attendance (see this great video from Lisa Smith by kids for kids ) were some goals that were mentioned.
So it was a surprise to see the unveiling of new architectural renderings that did not showcase the Saunders house. It’s like the White House not featuring the White House. I think the Saunders house should be key and central to any building overhaul, not tossed aside. Providing universal access should preserve the intended awe factors if there are any, FOR EVERYBODY–such as the architectural details, proportion, welcoming entrance and unique heritage of a historic building. In this proposal, with Saunders severed there is zero physical access to the main event. What a missed opportunity. And for a library. What do you think?
Today’s paper mentioned that the Saunders house could be used for other purposes instead of the library. Why can’t that be the case and the library maintain its #1 asset? The downtown cultural district (which is not going forward in the same capacity) and other organizations could use the library meeting spaces. Do we really need to conjure up another stand alone endeavor?
Back in 1973, the Trustees of the Library began a fund drive for the new library addition; the city of Gloucester paid 2/3. As the Library’s General Chairman, Joe Garland led that campaign. Not surprising, the text of the brochure is a good read! The architect was Donald F. Monnell. (In 1971 Monnell was quoted in the papers speaking about the attributes of Central Grammar. One likes him more and more.) The population served was 27,000–nearly what it is today.
2016 Planning term and movement- “Scaling Up”
A quip about the concept of Scaling UP that I remember from a conference this past September at Peabody Essex Museum and hosted by Essex National Heritage was to “think about the farm not just a barn”; in this case a downtown, or an entire city and region. I like thinking this way in general–architecture and planning, art, and schools. But this conference pushed me to add overlays beyond my areas of expertise or focus like wildlife and waterways. Gloucester, Cape Ann, Massachusetts–there’s so much! Mayor Romeo Theken is committed to working together and feels that planning is important and broad. One example, see Gloucester Daily Times Dec 19, 2016 Officials: City to Prioritize Its (competing) Needs
There are several looming questions, evaluations, and decisions.
Every era has choices. The prior library expansion plans began well before 1972. Possibilities swirled as they do now. (Back then, Central Grammar was also in the news, may or may not have been razed, and possible uses favored senior housing, commercial development, an annex to City Hall, and a courthouse police station.) Today there are competing building needs and uses floated for properties as diverse as: the Cape Ann YMCA on Middle Street, the post office on Dale, the Gloucester Fire Department, police headquarters, St. Ann’s, and the elementary schools–and that’s just to name a few. Let’s celebrate enviable architectural strengths, and not fuss with buildings that should be venerated, unless it’s to help them be accessible and healthy. Let’s get the balance right.
HISTORY MAKING PLEA- Archives for all
The prohibitive costs of best practice historic preservation (ADA compliant, temperature and humidity controls, security, sustainability, in house scanning/OCR/audio transcription, etc) is impossible for all the worthy collections in town, and pits them as foes when vying for funds. Let’s flip that impediment on its head and make Gloucester a model for the state. Its treasures would be available worldwide if they were trulyaccessible –digitized.Two words may help accomplish this goal and free up cash for individual operations: shared overhead. It’s one hope I continue to stress–the need to share necessary resources for a state-of-the-art research and warehouse repository. This universal hub should be large enough to encompass any holdings not on view. There could be a smaller downtown central site combined with a larger off site location, such as at Blackburn. The list of sharing institutions could include and is by no means exhaustive: our municipal archives that date back to 1642; Cape Ann Museum; Sawyer Free Library; North Shore Art Association; Beauport; Hammond Castle; the Legion; Amvets and other social clubs; Sargent House; several places of worship; Gloucester Daily Times; Annisquam historical building collections; Lanesville; Magnolia’s historic collections; artists/writers estates; Veterans office; our schools; Isabel Babson Memorial Library, and perhaps businesses such as Cape Pond Ice and Gortons. The library plans don’t appear to retrofit their site(s) for this goal.
If incentives and policy supported neighborhood character over less generic construction
that would be wonderful. It’s not just Gloucester.