The message was simple Monday night -- the Middletown Public Library has outgrown its existing space and needs more room to grow and serve the community better. While no decisions were made, local leaders were interested in the plan. #MiddletownRI
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LIBRARY LOOKING TO GROW, EVOLVE
MIDDLETOWN, R.I. (MARCH 6, 2023) – The Middletown Public Library wants to expand and grow — all to serve all of the community better.
According to paperwork before the Town Council Monday night, a new 31,551-square-foot library building is being considered on property now home to the former Kennedy School.
The lengthy report from library design consultant Lauren Stara indicated the proposed facility at 740 West Main Road would have more than two times the gross square footage of the existing building and close to three times as much programming space.
Beefed up amenities included a dedicated youth services office and programing space, about double the amount of room for the adult fiction and nonfiction collections, close to eight times the area for public computers along with a 2,400 square foot meeting and performance space. The current meeting room is about 800 square feet.
“If anything else please just remember...that libraries function as gathering places for lifelong learning,” library Director Theresa Coish said. “That really speaks to the quality of life of a community.”
Ever since the Navy announced in March 2008 that several federally owned parcels on the west side of Aquidneck Island would be freed up, the fate of the library has been unclear.
Ultimately, the town opted to package the library property and a handful of neighboring sites together in an attempt to remake the center of Middletown, generate new housing and collect needed tax revenue. The other properties included the neighboring West Main Road recreational complex, former Kennedy School and old Navy Lodge site at the corner of Coddington Highway and West Main Road.
In January 2022, the town entered into an exclusive negotiating agreement with a trio of local developers — Chris Bicho, James Karam and Rocky Kempenaar — to redo the 15-acre property. They dubbed their project “Middletown Center.”
One of the selling points of their proposal was a new 30,000-square-foot library located on the north side of the impacted development area.
No approval of the proposed library project was granted by the council. Items like a project timeline, construction costs or who pays for the work were also not discussed.
Later in Monday’s meeting, Town Administrator Shawn J. Brown told the council that representatives for the town and development trio continue to meet. And while there’s nothing formal to report, Brown said progress was definitely being made. Brown did say an environmental assessment is upcoming with the library and Kennedy School sites, work that was expected to begin this week.
At the same time, the Middletown Center Citizens Advisory Committee continues to meet and discuss everything from the landscaping to the look and feel of the “Middletown Center” project. That volunteer group typically gets together on the first and third Thursdays of each month.
A timeline in Stara’s report showed the Middletown Public Library opened at its current location at 700 West Main Road in 1979. Before that, the building was known as the Navy Anchorage Day Care Center.
While the town has gotten a lot of life out of the former day care center, town officials have said it’s beginning to show its age.
In addition to issues with the air handling systems, the floor of the library has buckled in several areas, something that’s required multiple rounds of reinforcement. The last time the building underwent significant improvements was the early 2000s.
Coish said based on the independent review of the library building, the facility has “maxed out” its existing space. Of what’s there, she said the library is overcrowded, with most of the space dedicated to shelves for books and computers.
More parking spaces were required along with space for expanding programs and services, she said.
Despite those ongoing concerns, Stara’s report indicated the library remains a popular — and integral — place in Middletown.
She indicated that as of December 2022, the library is open seven days a week for a total of 55 hours. In Fiscal 2022, she said the circulation for physical materials was about 99,000 compared to about 34,300 for electronic library loans.
Council members said they were happy to hear from the library — and learn more about the group’s future plans.
“We think this library could be something special,” council President Paul M. Rodrigues said. “Especially what your needs are and maybe some type of community center involved here too.”
Councilwoman Emily Tessier said she was impressed with the report and the forward thinking of the library.
“The architect is also a librarian,” Tessier said. “I wanted to point that out and she did a great job. What a unique skillset to have.”
Document Link: https://www.middletownri.com/DocumentCenter/View/7802/NYCU-Library