by Thomas P. Caldwell
ASHLAND — Trustees of the Ashland Town Library, citing crowding at the Scribner Library, are hoping voters will agree to purchase the former Ashland School from the Tri-County Community Action Program. A $950,000, 10-year bond issue will be on the ballot for a decision on March 11.
TCCAP purchased the three-story brick building from the Ashland School District in 2008, paying $1 plus a $44,000 reimbursement to the school district for the demolition of the former high school building. Community Action then spent $1.25 million for restoration and improvements to the school, bringing the building up to code, installing new heating and cooling systems and a zoned sprinkler system, and putting in energy-efficient lighting and windows, as well as building a handicapped entrance and installing an elevator to provide access to all floors.
The building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was built in 1877-78 and served as a school until 1990. The new Ashland Elementary School sits on an adjacent parcel and the library trustees cite that as one of the attractions of the building: It is a short, safe walking distance from the elementary school so students could use the library for in-school visits and after-school activities.
In addition to the main circulation area on the first floor, there would be three office spaces that could serve as rooms for study and tutoring. There would be triple the current space for a children's room — the Scribner Library has room for only 12 children — and when the library holds a reading program, they have to remove the furniture from the room. There also would be a computer lab with space for laptop users.
Plans also call for a young adult area on the second floor, with space for the storage of historical records and volumes. The main collection also would be on the second floor, along with the library's audio-visual collection, work tables, and comfortable seating.
The third floor has a large space with original woodwork, blackboards, and a divider that could accommodate large and small community and governmental functions. As an added benefit, the room has great views of downtown Ashland.
The current library is housed in a two-story clapboard building owned by the town and managed by the Scribner Trustees. Library Trustee David Ruell says that, with 1,245-square-feet of space, all shelving is full and adding new materials requires dispensing with older, still-valuable materials. Although the library has a ramped entrance, it is not fully handicapped-accessible, with the second floor inaccessible for someone in a wheelchair, and it has only on-street parking.
The school, by contrast, has a dedicated parking lot with space for 15 vehicles. With 7,920-square-feet of space, it would give the library six times the amount of room for its collections, activities, and storage.
TCCAP has offered to sell the building to the town for $850,000. Having closed the Head Start classroom and discontinued the Housing and Development office, TCCAP has been using just half of one story for its remaining office and no longer needs such a large building.
The warrant article seeks an appropriation of $950,000 because, should the library acquire the building, it would need to make about $100,000 in renovations, including installing a circulation desk at the main entrance and security doors to shut off the library section when the building was being used for public events in the third-floor function room. The library also would need shelving for its books and computer work stations.
While the benefits of the move are apparent, the building's purchase may be a hard sell, coming a year after Ashland's revaluation bumped the property tax rate to $25.12 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. The first-year payment on the bonds issued would be $118,750, declining to $97,373 in the 10th and final year. Because the article involves a bond issue, it will take a 60 percent majority vote for the article to pass.
Nevertheless, the library is showing continued growth in usage, having increased the size of its collection by 20 percent in the last three years. Patron visits have increased 16 percent, items circulated increased 23 percent, and computer use has grown 29 percent, according to the trustees.
In order to prove the need, the library is inviting Ashland voters to visit the current library at 41 Main Street and see for themselves how crowded conditions are. Then, on Saturday, March 8, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., the library will be leading tours of the Ashland School at 41 School Street.
The Friends of the Ashland Library will serve free refreshments during the tours, and hold a fundraising raffle. Children will have the opportunity to read to Willow, the reading therapy dog, and listen to stories in what would be the new children's room.
For further information, see www.ashlandtownlibrary.org; call the library at 603-968-7928, or call David Ruell at 968-7716.
CAPTION: The trustees of the Scribner Library, also known as the Ashland Town Library, are hoping voters will approve the purchase of the old Ashland School to give them more space for their programs and collections. (Thomas Caldwell photo/for The Laconia Daily Sun)
CAPTION: The old Ashland School would be transformed into the Ashland Town Library if voters agree to purchase the building from Tri-County Community Action Program which recently renovated the building but no longer needs all the space. (Thomas Caldwell photo/for The Laconia Daily Sun)