More than 10 years in the making, the new Millis Public Library is about to become a reality.
With construction slated to begin later this month on the $7.8 million project, the library’s board of trustees is hosting a groundbreaking ceremony Saturday morning at the site of the new building, a vacant lot at Exchange and Main streets.
State Representative David Linsky will speak, and representatives of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, the state agency that oversees and supports public libraries, will also be present.
“We have come a long way from people thinking libraries are just a warehouse for books,’’ said Beverly Temple, chairwoman of the Millis library board. The new library is being thought of as a community center, she said. “ ‘The town’s living room’ sort of became its tagline.’’
The current Millis Public Library, built on Auburn Road in the late 1960s, is filled to capacity. Books line the top shelves of nearly every stack. The young adult section is composed of two beanbag chairs squeezed behind the stacks in an upstairs loft. Five staffers share one small office. And children’s story time, held three times per week, takes place between another set of collection stacks.
The library’s single meeting room accommodates 15 to 20 people comfortably, which recently proved to be a challenge when 75 youngsters and their parents showed up for a talk by “Diary of a Wimpy Kid’’ author Jeff Kinney. A leaky roof left the room mold-filled and unusable for most of last winter.
The argument that Millis has outgrown its library is not a new one. Library trustees and town officials have been working on this issue for years. For as long as Temple can remember, the library has been part of a larger plan to revitalize downtown Millis, she said. Officials say that starting from scratch at a more central location will provide an opportunity to build up some kind of town center.
“The old fire station will sit adjacent to the new library,’’ said Wayne Klocko, chairman of the town’s Permanent Building Committee, which oversees the construction of all municipal properties. “We’re hoping to draw in the two buildings together.’’ Previously, the firehouse “was adjacent to an abandoned old property’’ that once included a drugstore and hair salon, Klocko said. “This is a chance to really spruce up the town.’’
Millis officials at one point discussed using the library’s current property for a new police station, but that notion remains uncertain.
The new library will be more than three times the size of the current 5,400-square-foot facility. In addition to increased space for its collection of books, magazines, tapes, and DVDs, the new library will feature an 80-person meeting room, more office and staff space, a history room, a gas fireplace, and separate children’s, young adult, and adult reading rooms.
It will also have a courtyard garden.
“I think people are excited about the aspect of availability of a community space,’’ said Tricia Perry, the library’s director. “I only hear positive things.’’
Getting to this point was the result of a decade of studies, meetings, presentations to residents, grant applications, and waiting, as well as the work of many people, some of whom are no longer serving the town. At times the process resembled the path of a yo-yo, hope and disappointment ebbing and flowing.
In 2000, the trustees persuaded the town to accept - and match - a planning grant from the state for a new library. In 2005, the trustees submitted a construction-grant application outlining the plans for a new library to the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners.
The state agency awarded Millis roughly $2.8 million toward a two-story, 20,000-square-foot , building, which the agency said would best serve the needs of the town’s projected population. It put Millis on a waiting list for the funding, which seemed like a win for trustees, town officials, and new library proponents.
“We were eighth on the list,’’ said Beth Krimmel, a longtime library trustee. “Monies became available’’ in 2008, she said, “but the economy took a downturn.’’
Against the backdrop of the country’s recession, trustees did not believe they could ask local taxpayers for the rest of the funding needed for the new library. The state agency agreed to reduce the project’s size, going from 20,000 to 17,800 square feet and from two stories to one. The trustees hoped that the town would agree to a one-story library, which would not require additional staff, and put the request up for a vote.
In May 2010, by a tally of 1,366 to 1,085, voters approved a $5 million tax increase to pay for the new library. One month later at Town Meeting, the proposal earned the required two-thirds majority approval. The $7.8 million project cost includes the purchase of the new site and demolition of the old library.
The tax increase, which will go into effect in 2013, will be stretched out over the 20 years of the bond that will pay for the new building, with the annual cost for taxpayers varying from year to year. The biggest annual increase for a $337,400 home - the average in Millis - will be about $165, said Town Administrator Charles Aspinwall.
“I look back and think it was a good thing it was done in 2010,’’ Temple said. “The economy has not gotten any better. I think it would have been a tougher sell’’ last spring, he said, “or going into this year.’’
For the past year and a half, the library director, trustees, the town administrator, selectmen, and the Permanent Building Committee have been working out the details of the new space. They’ve held public meetings and hired an architectural firm, Oudens Ello of Boston, and a general contractor, B.W. Construction of Spencer.
The lot where the new library will stand is ready for construction, after its three former dilapidated buildings, taken by the town by eminent domain, were demolished in the summer. Construction is scheduled to begin the day after Christmas, with a target completion date of January 2013, said Klocko. Local materials, such as cedar shakes and local slate, will be used, and the design will follow the LEED certification system.
“We are making sure there will be appropriate soundproofing and good light,’’ Klocko said. “The adult section will have a vaulted ceiling. There will be lots of open light and green space all around the building and a very efficient heating and ventilation system. We’ve tried to pick up elements of signature buildings that already exist in town.’’
The community’s reception to the project has been a mix at times, but mostly positive, Klocko said.
“There have been some naysayers,’’ Klocko said. “Some people say, ‘With the Internet, why do you need to spend money on a library?’
“Not only is this not true, but in tougher economic times, the use of libraries goes up. Not everyone has access to computers. Once we put a shovel in the ground, I think we’ll see a lot more excitement. There is certainly a majority of people who support it.’’
Longtime trustee Beth Krimmel agrees: “I think there’s a quiet trend right now of anticipation. I think you’re going to see the buzz happen when the groundbreaking starts and the building is going up, and people see the possibilities for the community.’’
Fourteen-year-old Harris Wypyszinski, who walks to the library after school nearly every day and has owned a library card since he was 7, is hopeful about what’s coming.
“It will be much better,’’ Wypyszinski said. “I’ll have lots more books to read and lots more space, too. It will take a second longer to walk there.’’