By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
GILMANTON — The Board of Directors of the Gilmanton Year-Round Library Association announced yesterday that the library will close on Friday, April 1.
Chris Schlegel, president of the association, said yesterday after the Town Meeting voted not to fund the operation of the library, the decision to close could not be avoided.
"Lots of people are offering donations," she said, "but with two employees, we just can't keep going month to month. We have to get through the entire year."
A statement on library's website said "We are saddened to see this day come" and tersely noted "The decision do this was not easy, but was necessary." Indicating that the closure may not be irrevocable, the statement continued: "We are still accepting donations. Please make note either way if you wish to be refunded in the event the library does not reopen."
Schlegel said the association will host a "community conversation" at the library about its future on Friday, March 18, beginning at 7 p.m.
Schlegel said funding from the town represents about two-thirds of the library's annual operating budget of $76,400 with donations from benefactors and proceeds from fundraising providing the balance. This year, there were two petitioned articles on the warrant to fund the library, both of which failed. One would have provided $47,500 a year for two years and, if that failed, another that would have appropriated $50,000 for 2016 alone.
Acknowledging that funding for the library has been a source of controversy and dissension since it opened in 2009, Schlegel said that she was somewhat surprised by the votes, which she suggested reflected concern aroused by the rise in the tax rate and increase in the town budget this year.
Kristen Menard, who operates the Before and After School Enrichment (BASE) Program, said "without the library, don't know what we'll do." She said that 68 children are enrolled in her program, as many as 35 of whom regularly cross NH Route 140 from the school to spend time at the library. "It's like having a movie theater, art gallery, petting zoo and everything," Menard said. "We go for every program they offer."
Menard said that when the closure was announced yesterday she began hearing from parents and children almost at once. "They're asking 'what can we do for the library?'" she said. With the library closed, she expected her program will be confined to the school. "We cannot do at the school all we can do at the library," she remarked.
Carol Locke, principal of Gilmanton Elementary School, said that "the library has been a very valuable resource and I'm very sad it is closing." She said that the greatest impact will fall on the after-school program, especially on early release days and among younger children." She said that students use the resources of the library to do research, particularly those those without access to the Internet.
The library, which was built, furnished, equipped and stocked with private funds, has been a bone of contention in town since it before it opened in June 2009. That year, the association sought an appropriation of $75,000 from the town to operate the library, sparking heated, often bitter debate that has persisted ever since. Some insist that the town never asked for the library and, more importantly, claimed that the association pledged not to seek funding from the town to operate it.
After much debate at Town Meeting, voters denied the request for funding by nearly a two-to-one margin and only the generosity of an anonymous benefactor enabled the library to open. Within 18 months, the library had issued 1,022 cards, served 12,216 patrons and circulated 14,567 items. Today the library counts 1,769 cardholders and served 895 patrons in January alone.
In 2010, 2011 and 2012, voters approved warrant articles to fund the library, but in 2013, the first year of official ballot voting after the adoption of SB 2, funding was denied by a vote of 400 against to 322 in favor. But, funding for the library carried by 17 votes in 2014 and by 94 votes in 2015, before failing this year.