Orleans Officials Get Behind Plan For New Library

By: Ryan Bray

Topics: Snow Library , Orleans news

Built in 1954, the Snow Library is an Orleans institution. But library trustees are looking ahead toward building a new facility better equipped to meet patrons’ current and future needs. RYAN BRAY PHOTO

ORLEANS – After almost 70 years, Orleans may soon have a new library.

Steven Gass, who chairs the Snow Library's board of trustees, made his pitch to the select board March 23 to allocate north of $20 million in capital improvement spending over the next three fiscal years to build a new library. The trustees proposed spending $150,000 for a feasibility study in fiscal 2025, $1 million for a design contract in fiscal 2026 and $20 million for construction funding in fiscal 2027.

The original Snow Library was built in 1877 at what is now Veterans Memorial Park. That building was destroyed in a fire in 1952, and the existing library was built at its current location nearby on Main Street two years later.

The library underwent additions in 1977 and 1992, and was last renovated in 2001. But what Gass cited as the town's most heavily used public building (the library accommodated an average of 500 people per day in 2019, according to the trustees) is nearing the end of its useful life, he said.

The trustees have been exploring plans for a new library since 2017, Gass said. Specifically, he noted that the library lacks an automatic sprinkler system, is marred by parking inefficiencies and does not have an emergency egress that is up to code. The building also lacks adequate meeting and collection space, working space for the library's four full-time and 13 part-time employees and room for patrons. The library also isn't climate controlled, Gass said.

Andrea Reed of the select board voiced her support for the project with one question: Why wait until fiscal 2025?

"We felt it would be good to stage it in, based on all the other competing needs that the town is facing," Gass said. "But I think we all would be more supportive of being more aggressive with the timing."

A new library would assimilate well with efforts to craft an economic development plan for downtown Orleans, said Select Board member Kevin Galligan.

"Whenever we talk about a village center...I think of this place," he said. "It is the heart of the town."

In the short term, the town's capital improvement plan for fiscal 2023 includes a $350,000 earmark to replace the library roof, but Town Administrator John Kelly said the town has not yet paid to get a design or put the project out to bid.

"That's the worst thing you can do is go to town meeting with an estimate for the cost of construction," he said.

Kelly said the cost for design work can be paid for through money in the town's building and facilities stabilization fund, and that a cost for the roof work could be ready to go before town meeting voters in October.

But Gass instead said "modest" improvements to the roof could service the existing building another five to seven years while work is done to build a new facility.

"I would like to see this project move forward," Reed said. "It doesn't make any sense to me to do a roof [replacement] right now."

Gass said the trustees would like to see a new library twice the size of the existing building, which he said could be tough to accommodate at the existing Main Street location.

Mark Mathison of the select board floated the idea of a shared project between the trustees and Nauset Regional Middle School.

"We have a huge space at the middle school, an auditorium, that's underutilized at best," he said. "We have proximity to parking. We have the potential for multiple levels of egress because of the topography there."

The idea had been discussed in the past with Nauset school administrators and the trustees, but Mathison said trustees indicated they were not interested.

Gass said the proposal would be too complicated, especially the logistics of giving library patrons the free access to the middle school that they are provided at the library.

"I think practically it's a boondoggle," he said.

"If you're looking at keeping the library where it is, the impracticality of tearing it down, maintaining it somewhere else and rebuilding it is a bureaucratic nightmare and a boondoggle itself," Mathison said. "There's pluses and minuses in all scenarios." Gass said the trustees would be open to having further discussions with school officials about a shared plan.

The board voted 5-0 March 23 to authorize $150,000 for the feasibility study to be included in the capital improvement plan for fiscal 2024.

Cathy Doane, the town's finance director, called the trustees' plan "a worthwhile project." She said the trustees have $640,000 in available funds that could be put toward the project. Gass said the trustees fully intend to commit their own funds to the effort. Grants also will be pursued, and the Friends of the Snow Library anticipate undertaking a fundraising campaign to bring in additional money for a new library.

"We certainly recognize this is an all-hands-on-deck effort to get this achieved," he said.

"I think this is such a dear and critical component of the community that people will write checks," Reed said.

Email Ryan Bray at ryan@capecodchronicle.com