Dighton Town Meeting approves $150,000 for library move to Smith Memorial Hall
Michael J. DeCicco
DIGHTON – Dighton Town Assembly voters have approved a plan to install a new public library in the historic Smith Memorial Hall at 207 Main St. by an “overwhelming” majority of voters.
City administrator Michael Mullen reported that the measure was “overwhelmingly approved by residents at the town hall, by a vote aloud”.
“Everyone seemed very committed to seeing this approved. Everyone seemed very enthusiastic about meeting the community’s long-standing need to rebuild our library operations,” Mullen said.
“It’s a great plan to create a truly amazing public library building.”
Initial costs to move into the historic building, including acquisition and building improvements, are estimated to be approximately $2 million.
The town hall on Monday, June 6 approved $150,000 from the capital stabilization fund to help pay that bill. The city will also use $790,000 from $832,000 from the US Federal Bailout Act (ARPA), rather than city tax money, to help complete the acquisition.
Other large items
In other major items on the town meeting’s terms of reference, the meeting also approved spending $210,000 from community preservation funds to build a new playground in North Dighton, Mullen said with pride.
The $24 million budget for FY23 was also easily approved, as were new regulations for solar power generation facilities.
Calendar of major moves
“But the highlight was the acquisition of 207 Main Street,” Mullen said. “The community has rallied around the need to invest in their community.”
He estimated that it would take two years to move the library to his new home. The acquisition will need to be posted on the Massachusetts Central Registry for 30 days. Then, it is hoped that the closure will take place the week of July 18.
The first priority after these steps, Mullen said, will be the exterior of 207 Main Street, particularly weatherization and work on the ramp and parking lot. These are the items that the $150,000 allocated to the municipal assembly will fund.
In the fall, Mullen said, elected officials will ask the community preservation committee for more funds for interior renovations.
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The city’s 3,000-square-foot Carnegie Library at 395 Main Street, built in 1910, closed to the public in fall 2021 due to building code loopholes and the lack of a safe exit in the event of a ’emergency. City Library Services now occupies the Lower Level Conference Room in the basement of City Hall and a 720 square foot modular building at the parking lot end of the office building.
Only a fraction of the collection fits in a temporary location
Youth Services Librarian Lorie Van Hook previously told the Taunton Daily Gazette that she would welcome a new home.
“I can’t wait to have a place where kids can really cruise again and teenagers can hang out again,” she said.
The Van Hook department now occupies a single room in the basement of the town hall.
Fifteen to 20 percent of the library’s children’s and teen collection is stored at City Hall, while the remainder remains housed at the Carnegie location. The modular parking lot unit contains less than 10% of the library’s adult collection, while the rest of these books and periodicals remain at Carnegie. But the staff regularly rotates which titles are where and will deliver any title requested by a customer to the town hall.
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“We try to make it all as accessible as possible,” Van Hook said, noting that she still hosts weekly Story Times and Tot Times for kids under 3. But it’s not the same as at Carnegie, she said. What used to be 15 to 18 young people per event now averages five to eight young participants. The move did not increase its programming or storage space.
Cramped neighborhoods and COVID distancing at odds
Library manager Jocelyn Tavares explained that since the move it has been difficult to manage two locations. But it would have been much more difficult to reopen the Carnegie Library after the advent of COVID. City officials struggled to decide how to reopen a building with limited space under new COVID protocols, she said. In the end, the decision to close it to the public was the best one to make.
“I can’t wait to have a separate teen bedroom, which we haven’t had in over a decade. It will be exciting to get all of our systems in place and running in a new location,” Tavares said previously.
A new use for a historic property
A new location is exactly what the city authorities have in mind.
Late last year, Selectmen and other city officials identified an opportunity to acquire 207 Main St., the “Father’s House Family Church” property where Smith Memorial Hall was built in 1889.
Mullen said the selectors entered into a buy-and-sell agreement with the owner in hopes of finding a cost-effective solution to meet the needs of the city library without affecting the local tax rate, at a fraction the cost of the previously proposed $8 million addition. at the current library, he says.
The move to Smith Memorial Hall also allows the city “to preserve a valuable historic property located near the Wild & Scenic Taunton River,” he said.
A recent presentation by project designer Joseph Shea of Granite City Partners Real Estate noted that 207 Main St. measures a total of 9,014 square feet over two floors, compared to just 3,000 square feet for the Carnegie Building. And that’s not counting the potential future programming spaces in the basement.
The building is already fire alarm compliant and partially ADA compliant. It sits on a 34,848 square foot site that includes over 60 parking spaces. Its designer Alfred Smith also designed the town hall in Newport, RI.