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Millis

New library already drawing rave reviews

Noah McGhee browses for books in the children's room of the new Millis Public Library.

Noah McGhee browses for books in the children's room of the new Millis Public Library.

One of the first things visitors at the new Millis Public Library at Main and Exchange streets may notice is the new library smell of fresh building materials and books. It is an improvement, library officials say, over the old building’s musty, mildewy smell that greeted patrons at the door.

Then, there is the light-filled, high-ceiling openness of its replacement, the reading nooks, and the open space.

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“I love the layout, the light,” library director Tricia Perry said.

The new $7.8 million building opened on July 29, offering more space for the library’s collection, areas for people to read or use computers, children’s and young adult rooms, study rooms, archival storage, a community meeting room, and outdoor space, among other amenities.

A formal dedication is planned for 10 a.m. on Sept. 21.

The old library on Auburn Street was built in 1967. The roof leaked, there was the mildew smell, and, at 5,400 square feet, it had become too small to properly serve the community, officials said.

“At the old building, when we added a new book, it would displace something else because there was no room,” said Perry, who noted the new stacks have empty shelves at the top and bottom, instead of being crammed full.

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In the first week it was open, the library had 2,212 visits, and 41 new library cards were issued, Perry said. The old library attracted about 1,200 visitors a week.

On the first day, 651 people went to see the space, including a cluster of people who waited outside for the doors to open for the first time, Perry said.

“I think they were excited to see it,” she said. “It’s beautiful.”

An advantage of the design is there are sight lines to most parts of the library from the circulation desk, said Permanent Building Committee member Diane Jurmain, allowing staff to monitor what is happening throughout the building. The children’s room is behind the circulation desk, but is overseen by a part-time children’s librarian.

The building will become the town’s first LEED-certified building, said Jurmain, who is also a former member of the library board of trustees. The library’s architects, from Oudens Ello Architecture of Boston, kept energy efficiency and sustainability in mind throughout the design process, she said.

“We tried to use sustainable materials that would last for a very long time,” Jurmain said. “After all those years, it’s nice to see the final product. Every time I walk in, I have a smile on my face.”

While many who have used the library since it opened have good things to say about it, the library project in its infancy did not garner the support of all Millis residents, some of whom disliked the potential increase in taxes, or felt the town did not need a large library.

“It was a contentious issue back in 2010,” Perry said.

As a result, library officials scaled back their initial design, which called for a 20,000-square-foot, two-story building. The new proposal changed the debate about the library, Perry said, as more people got behind the design for a 17,800-square-foot, one-story building that would not need a larger staff.

In 2010, voters, by a tally of 1,366 to 1,085, approved a $5 million tax increase over 20 years for the project, and Town Meeting voted 663 to 152 in favor of the building. Coupled with a $2.8 million grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, the total was enough to pay for the project as well as the demolition of the old library.

“It was such a hard fight to get it done,” said library board member Wendy Barry. “What I like is people are already taking ownership’’ of the space.

On a recent morning, Millis resident Winston Armistead sat near a window working at a computer terminal, briefcase resting on the table next to him. He also rented a few movies with the library card he had gotten the day before. His four daughters used the old library often, Armistead said, but he rarely did. That is about to change, he said.

“I’ll be using it every day, or every other day,” he said. “It’s a beautiful facility.”

Library officials also gave new library cards to Millis mother Amanda McGhee’s two older children, Nate, 6, and Noah, 5. In the children’s room they looked at books, played at the train table — a popular item brought over from the old library — and used a computer with younger sister Tessa, 3.

McGhee said she is looking forward to coming to story hour with Tessa while the boys are at school. She liked the size of the new library, and the convenience, she said.

“I can pull up and walk right in the door,” she said, referring to the parking lot behind the library.

One of library director Perry’s favorite features is the young adult room. At the old library, teens had an 8-foot-by-10-foot area, she said. Now, they have a larger room, with colorful furniture and a turquoise ottoman in the shape of a plus sign.

“It is so great to see the teenagers come in and have a space just their own,” Perry said.

Millis resident Peggy Balboni, 15, visiting the library with her mother and brother, said she would probably use the study area once school resumes. She also likes the Dora Winiker Waldman reading room, with periodicals, comfortable chairs, and a fireplace.

Children also have a larger space, with an area dedicated to story hour, and an adjacent craft room that can accommodate 30 children. In the old library, “everyone was smashed into each other” for story hour, said Rachel Silverman, the children’s librarian.

“The best part is having space to do programming,” said Silverman.

At one end of the children’s room, Michelle Kelly and her daughter, Kara, 9, sat in a pair of chairs, reading from a book. While Kara Kelly said she liked the young adult room and the computers, Michelle Kelly said she is impressed by the spaciousness of the library.

“It’s been very nice, coming in and enjoying it,” she said.

Abby Jordan can be reached at globe.abby@gmail.com.

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