The Benjamin M. Smith Memorial Library on Main Street falls short on space and spurs safety concerns, trustees say. On Thursday, Jan. 12, the library board voted to authorize a discussion with the neighboring Baptist Church about an access for library staff, after Library Director Erin Apostolos warned that employees are afraid of falling on the ice when arriving at work. (David Carkhuff/The Laconia Daily Sun)
By DAVID CARKHUFF/THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
MEREDITH — Uncertain about how to launch a fundraising campaign for a new library building, library trustees plan to consult Concord attorney Biron Bedard and pick his brain.
Bedard, who lives in Meredith, is managing director of Ransmeier & Spellman P.C., a law firm with offices in Concord and Alton.
Library trustee Duncan McNeish said he sat next to Bedard at a Monday, Jan. 9, workshop of Meredith Selectmen where the library board made its case for a new building. Later, McNeish invited the attorney to sit down with library board members and share his advice.
"He's skilled in dealing with these issues," McNeish said at a meeting of the library board Thursday. "He has some very good ideas of what to do in terms of enhancing our outreach efforts."
The 9 a.m. meeting on Thursday, Jan. 19, with Bedard is likely to be called as a nonpublic session not open to the general public. Under state law, exceptions to open meetings include "consultation with legal counsel." Reasons for nonpublic sessions include "consideration of legal advice provided by legal counsel, either in writing or orally, to one or more members of the public body, even where legal counsel is not present." Acquisition of real estate is another condition.
"That is not an open meeting because we are consulting with our lawyer," said Beverly Heyduk, chairman of the library board.
Trustees wrestled with the task of convincing voters that the historic Benjamin M. Smith Memorial Library building — an ornate multi-level building on Main Street — no longer suffices as a home to the public library. Limited parking, space and accessibility are among the chief complaints. Trustees point to more serious concerns, such as fire and safety code violations on the second and third floors.
"If we are to stay here or the town is to occupy this building, the second and third floors of this historic building need to be attended to," McNeish said.
McNeish agreed to research costs of upgrading the building to meet fire and safety codes. "That should be a responsibility of the town," he said.
Already, the board has unveiled a pair of choices. Cost to stay at the existing 3,300-square-foot library, including renovations and construction of a 12,000-square-foot addition, would reach $4.145 million, according to library board consultant Ron Lamarre. In the board's preferred choice, the town could build a 14,000-square-foot library for $3.15 million on the Robertson property, a parcel at Parade Road and Route 3.
Heyduk said the preference for moving was not taken lightly. "There are serious safety issues, and our patrons are the most important responsibility of ours," she said.
Town Manager Phillip Warren Jr. said he suggested to the town's capital improvement program advisory committee that voters be asked to support placing $50,000 in an expendable trust fund, with $30,000 to support a feasibility study on use of the Robertson property. This would be a de facto "yes or no" question about moving, he said at the selectmen's workshop.
But library trustees, who are contemplating a warrant article of their own, debated what to ask voters.
"It can't be for a general overview, it has to be for a specific purpose," McNeish said.
Trustee Pam Coburn said the board should fund-raise on the basis of a "vision" rather than a particular place or plan.
"The library is going to need money, this building is going to need money," she said. "If we stay here and expand here, we have to renovate this building. If we move out and they don't mothball this building, the town has to renovate this building."
Heyduk suggested making a plea for repair and maintenance of the existing building while also fund-raising for a new library. Other trustees warned that the public could perceive a mixed message.
Coburn warned, if a two thirds vote is required for permission to move, "that vote is doomed to fail."
Coburn also cautioned against the expendable trust fund article.
"The public is not ready. If we have that warrant article that's tied to the new site, and the vote is framed that way, we will fail and it will put us backward," she said.
"We have to separate this building and its needs from what the library is supposed to be doing," Coburn said.
Heyduk said, "I think we have spoken in soft voices, and it's time now to say what the issues are in a stronger voice so people do understand."
Trustee Jane Ramsay, who told selectmen she could not access parts of the existing library building, said the additional cost to renovate should make the case. "It's going to cost you a million and a half to get me in and out of this library. Who wants to spend that money?"
Heyduk said, "What we're up against is an emotional attachment to the library being in this building."
Another meeting of the Meredith selectmen is expected Monday, Feb. 6, prior to Town Meeting on March 15. Library trustees moved their February meeting to 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 2, so they would have time to submit a warrant article.
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