By THOMAS P. CALDWELL, LACONIA DAILY SUN
MEREDITH — Three architectural firms are preparing preliminary designs they will unveil later this month to show how additions and renovations of the Benjamin M. Smith Memorial Library could provide additional program space while also addressing building deficiencies.
Andrew Lane, chair of the Meredith Library Improvement Feasibility Committee, said members will be reviewing the preliminary conceptual design drawings in mid-August, and then will decide which architect’s approach best fits the goals for the facility, including meeting the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act and life-safety codes.
Voters at Town Meeting had appropriated $50,000 to investigate what could be done to improve the library at its current location. Library trustees, who had been looking at both the present site and other properties, had supported building a new, 14,000-square-foot building on another site.
“Our committee is well aware of the advantages of keeping the Meredith Public Library where it is, with its historical significance, beauty, and central location,” Lane said. “It is very accommodating for walking or driving into town and being able to multitask (go to the post office, get a coffee, and then walk to the library). What this committee wants to add within this project is to make it easy to access the library and get around within the library.”
A long, steep walkway in front of the building can be challenging, forcing many of those walking to the library to go around the building to the back entrance off the parking lot to gain entry. The entrance, Lane said, “is very critical and one of the main issues that will be addressed. Both the committee and the architects feel we will have solutions to this issue. It would be a deal-breaker if it was not addressed adequately.”
Selectmen appointed the committee on May 1. In addition to Lane, the at-large members are Jack Carty, Rusty McLear, Jeanie Forrester, and Ed Touhey, with Paula Wanzer serving as the alternate. Library trustees Jim McFarland and Pam Coburn and selectmen Raymond Moritz and Jonathan James also serve on the committee.
Lane called the committee’s progress over the last few months “very encouraging.”
Members began by reviewing the previous studies from the last six years, as well as issues with the original library and its 1988 addition. The need for a full sprinkler system, combined with the results of energy audits, deferred maintenance, and parking deficiencies, were among the issues reviewed, along with the library program goals from the trustees and consultant Thomas A. Ladd.
Providing ADA access to the entire building, Lane said, reduces the size needed for the addition, while still providing the same programs envisioned by the trustees.
“The committee and the three architects are excited with the possibilities, and we will see the results of their visions in the next few weeks,” Lane said. “At that time, we will have a better indication of any compromises. We think any compromises will be minimal.”
Once the committee has chosen a plan, members will continue working with that architect to develop a full conceptual design with engineer evaluations, construction management cost estimating, construction phasing, and timelines, Lane said.
The Benjamin M. Smith Memorial Library was dedicated in 1901 and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. It was described as “not only Meredith’s finest public building, but also one of the Lakes Region’s most attractive libraries.”