By SHERIDAN ROY
The Southington Public Library renovation and expansion project that has long been only a topic of discussion is taking steps toward becoming a reality.
The town manager’s proposed budget, which will be voted on by the town council on May 13, includes $35,000 in fiscal year 2019-20 for a library building concept plan that will help the library determine what its possibilities are.
“We would like to approach the council and request a referendum as early as 2020, pending getting conceptual plans,” said library director Kristi Sadowski. “We’re working now with community organizations and inviting the community in here to find out what they really see as the future of the library.”
Sadowski said the library is moving more towards a community space, where residents come with school or work assignments, meet tutors, or even spread out and pay their bills. The library is more-so being sought out for its quiet space, free of distractions at home.
“What we really want to do is find a way to increase that space,” she said. “Even if you have five people talking quietly, it becomes unmanageable for those looking for a quiet space. Sound bleeds up into and from the balcony. The quiet study room doesn’t have a fourth wall.”
Maximizing quiet working spaces would be a priority for renovation plans.
As the library’s collection has grown, collection space has grown tight—so tight that it no longer is ADA compliant. Spaces between shelves should be 36 to 42 inches. Currently, some shelves are as narrow as 23 to 28 inches apart. Additionally, the outdated elevator’s door is about 34 inches wide. If a person in a wheelchair is able to make it into the elevator, there’s no room to move or even turn around and face the door.
“We’ve been shifting around some things and taking out shelves to try to widen the paths,” said Sadowski. “But when we started running out of room, we started fitting things wherever they would fit. Now we’re not meeting ADA or fire codes. It’s a huge concern.”
On top of compliance to codes, much of the infrastructure within the library is showing its age. Last month, the compressor blew, causing temperatures to skyrocket to 90 degrees. Since the machine itself is so old, it took almost three weeks to find the part needed, and to fix it.
“Things are old, and they are going to start failing, and those are going to be big, costly repairs,” said Sadowski. “It’s really important to get ahead of that.”
The Southington library also does not meet the State Library recommended standards for space, and as the population in town has increased by more than 30 percent, the library has remained the same since 1974.
The Southington library’s size is a fraction of the size of libraries in nearby towns. Southington’s library is 21,000 square feet for a population of about 43,800. Plainville’s library is 30,000 square feet for a population of about 17,694. Wallingford’s library is more than triple the size of Southington’s—68,000 square feet for a population of about 44,960.
Despite its size, Southington library’s usage has continued to increase. Items borrowed from 1975 to 2018 increased by 168 percent. The collection size increased by 109 percent. Program attendance has increased by 479 percent.
Sixty-two percent, or 10,508 of Southington households, have at least one active library card. The library averages 685 visitors per day, some days exceeding 1,000 visits in one day.
“It’s certainly something I think everyone knows needs to be discussed,” said Sadowski. “We’re looking for something that suits the needs of the community, and has the right ‘price tag’ that shows fiscal responsibility is important. We’re keeping the lines to the council very open in terms of what we’re thinking, and what they’re thinking, so there will be no surprises.”
As the library staff and board of directors continue to work toward a plan, residents can share feedback, suggestions and ideas by attending information sessions or emailing SouthingtonPublicLibrary@southington.org. ollow along at www.SouthingtonLibrary.org for upcoming information sessions.