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Library is not closed despite fence around entrance

Date: 9/15/2009

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

HOLYOKE -- The security fence now surrounding the Holyoke Public Library is just part of a larger story.

Although the fence, which was erected last week, is designed to keep patrons safe from falling chunks of limestone from the building, it is a reminder of the greater problems facing the building that opened in 1902.

According to a fact sheet distributed at a press conference on Wednesday, the building has lost 40 percent of its usable space due to water leaks and air quality issues. The library's history room had to be moved to Holyoke Community College and the children's area, once in the basement of the building, is now on the first floor. The system that brings rainwater from the roof and through pipes embedded in the walls eliminating exterior gutters has leaked, causing damage to interior walls.

Ironically, the usage of the library and its services has increased proving its worth in a Web-based world.

Ellen Moriarty, the president of the library's Boards of Trustees, explained at the press conference, the security fence will guide people to the two side entrances of the building and is "one of the several actions taken over the last few years to assure safety."

Holding one of the pieces of the limestone facade -- each weighing between three and 10 pounds -- Moriarty noted that the falling chunks haven't hurt any library patrons.

Michael Blumenthal, whose Amherst-based firm has been hired to run the fundraising campaign for renovation of the present historic structure and the addition of a new building, said that over the next year and a half the plans to bring a 21st century library to Holyoke will move forward with an anticipated ground-breaking in the spring of 2011.

The library, which is an independent non-profit organization and not a city department, must meet the standards established by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) to qualify for state funding for the project, Blumenthal explained.

The library has received a $4.375 million grant from the MBLC and anticipates raising $2.5 million as part of its capital campaign, he said. What is unknown at this time is a final cost for a new library complex. Mayor Michael Sullivan said there would also be city funds involved in the effort.

Moriarty said estimates range from $17 to $19 million. The cost is affected by two factors, Blumenthal explained: restoring part of the original structure and meeting the standards set by the MBLC for state funding.

The MBLC recommends the size of a library and its features based on the size of the community. For example, the current children's area is 1,999 square feet while the state recommendation is 6,220 square feet. While the library has eight computers for public use, the recommendation is 30. The current space for book stacks is 1,624 square feet, but the state believes the allotted space should be 7,600 square feet.

Blumenthal explained, "The interest is to preserve as much of the building as possible within costs."

The building is currently safe, but it's "getting close to the tipping point," Blumenthal explained. He also noted that just a restoration of the present building would not meet the standards of the MBLC for state funding.

Although there have been suggestions to move the library to another location, Moriarty said the present location is central to much of the city and is on bus routes that allow easy access to patrons.

Sullivan said the library has served as "an economic anchor for downtown."