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$50,000 grant launches Greenfield library project

GREENFIELD — The state has given Greenfield $50,000 to plan how to replace or update its public library, now housed in a historic colonial home designed by the country’s first architect.

This grant will allow library stakeholders, including the Library Board of Trustees, the Friends of the Greenfield Public Library, library customers and staff, to begin the process of defining what services the library should provide, where it should be located and what it will look like.

According to Library Director Ellen Boyer, the Main Street library is busier than it has ever been. In fiscal year 2013, the library was visited 162,000 times and circulated nearly 300,000 items, which was a record number. Public Internet access computers are in constant use, and program attendance is on the rise. All this takes place in the historic Levitt-Hovey House, a wooden structure built in 1797, with east and west wings added in 1817. A masonry addition, where the collection of adult books is currently located, was constructed in 1908 when the building became the town’s public library.

“Trying to function as a 21st-century library in a building that was designed as a house when John Adams was president of the United States is extremely difficult,” said Boyer.

“There was no way 18th-century building contractors could anticipate today’s technology use and all the accompanying wiring requirements. Nor were they sensitive to the need to make a building accessible to everyone.”

Greenfield’s Comprehensive Sustainable Master Plan envisions improving the library facility to include adequate parking, accessibility and a community gathering space.

Boyer said she envisions the improved library to be “a gathering center for everyone in our community, functioning in many ways as our collective living room. It will be the place where people come together to use public access technology resources to solve community problems. It will be the place where training and teaching of digital citizenship occurs. It will be the place where our community develops the concept of shared space and productivity. It will be the place where collaborative research and creative intellectual activity flourish. It will be the center of our community.”

The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners voted this week to award the Greenfield Public Library the $50,000, part of the state-funded Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program.

Mayor William Martin said “This grant and library planning process will move the city to another level as we replace and modernize our institutional structures.”

Since 2000, visits to Massachusetts public libraries have increased by nearly 60 percent, with more than 35 million visits to libraries and 56.9 million items borrowed in 2013 alone, according to state officials.

Twenty-eight library applications went through grant review. Libraries were selected based on many factors including community need, an understanding of future trends in library services, integration with the library’s long-range plan, support from local officials and a plan for community input.

The grant may be used for preparation of a library building program, architectural feasibility studies, engineering analysis of an existing building or alternative sites, schematic design, cost analysis of options, site investigation, and project management services. The grants are capped at $50,000 and require local match funding of up to $25,000. Libraries must secure this local match by Jan. 31, 2015.

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