By Rob Glidden
Inside the town’s new capital improvement plan is a small $30,000 expense that may have a major impact on Southington. A planned architectural study will examine the possibility of expanding the Southington Library, which has had to find more and more ways to fit a large amount of regular visitors into a small space.
The library was built in 1975, during an era without the internet, personal computers, DVDs, CDs, iPods or e-readers. It has remained virtually unchanged since then.
“Libraries are changing because of technology,” said Mary Ellen D’Angelo, Chairwoman of the Library Board. “The building is almost 50 years old and it is becoming a problem. I hope we can move forward with it because it’s very important for Southington.”
The library has been seeing more activity since the economic downtown began. Last year, a long-awaited new parking lot was completed and has helped alleviate the congestion problem in the other lot. However, it has also brought more residents into the building.
“All year long, the numbers have gone up,” said Library Director Sue Smayda. “We began to notice a large increase in program attendance when the new parking lot opened. I guess we’ve become a victim of our success. The programming is getting a strong response but we end up with long waiting lists.”
Many library events occur in a programming room in the basement which can safely accommodate about 60 people. Events held there usually require pre-registration and Smayda said that all 60 spots are typically filled quickly with as many as 50 additional people added to a waitlist. However, some other library events (particularly ones geared towards children) are “walk-in” activities and don’t require pre-registration.
Additional space would allow the library to accommodate many more people for their events. It could also provide a larger children’s area, more quiet study area’s, a real computer lab as opposed to rows of computers in the corner of the room, and more exhibition space for cultural activities like the Artist of the Month program.
“[The library] is 21,000 square feet,” wrote Town Manager Garry Brumback in the capital improvement plan. “Our current population is over 42,000. According to standard guidelines provided by the Connecticut State Library, our public library should be 41,620 square feet to meet the needs of our growing community and to comply with ADA [Americans With Disabilities Act] requirements.”
As one example of the building’s problems with ADA standards, Smayda said the space between many of the bookshelves is not wide enough for someone in a wheelchair to turn around.
The capital improvement plan states that any firm seeking to conduct the study must have been the lead architect for at least one major library expansion and renovation project in Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts or Westchester County, New York, in the last five years.
Brumback said the cost of the study was included in the current fiscal year’s budget and paid for with cash.
“The study will happen,” he said. “Any further work on the library after that will have to go through the council approval process.”
Smayda said the bids for the study would be reviewed in August. D’Angelo predicted that if the public and town officials were to respond favorably to the results of the study and pursue a renovation or expansion of the library, it would be at least three years before any work began. However, she said it was a smarter idea in the long-run than continuing to fix smaller issues in the library like the aging roof (an expense estimated at $225,000).
“The space we have for the people in Southington is inadequate but the participation and usage is very high,” D’Angelo said. “We’re thrilled that this step has been taken.”