I wish to express my thoughts regarding the Rutland Free Library relocation. Concerning issues include location, budget, safety, parking, programming, process, and student use.
Location — The Clement location was toured in “March or April” and Randal Smathers, the library director, has spent “20 hours” at the site with architect and “3 construction companies.” Reconstructed space for children, offices, roof repairs, new siding, will be completed by Fall when they expect to move. The board’s decision hopefully will not be a reality. According to the site listing board members, they do have the power. “The library will move,” “will be purchased,” moving “next Fall to our new home” were expressed during the board’s Dec. 5 Zoom meeting. Guests were invited to extol the plan. Perhaps they are not frequent users to make a comparative decision. All of these influential people spoke in favor of this move. It appears after reading the library’s Facebook page, Smathers is not requesting viewpoints but suggestions for the utilization of the new library.
Safety — Private study spaces is one suggestion. Who is going to monitor these spaces? Smathers has expressed safety issues at the present location. “Direct line of vision” does appear to be a problem at the new location. The police department is not around the corner from Clement. Safety issues were mentioned at least twice during the Dec. 5 meeting. The board thinks there will not be safety issues?
Funding — Every year at town meetings, the director pleas for more funding. The city owns the library and taxpayers of the city and area towns meet the library’s expectations when they vote. Smathers stated the move will save taxpayers $700,000. Randal stated the library has “saved 1.2 million dollars.” A few fundraisers were that successful? Smathers’ answer on the radio on Jan. 8: “The stock market,” after a caller praised his ability. Smathers stated the library has been “saving money for 33 years.” Considering the huge amounts they paid consultants to redesign the present library, architects’ fees, actual repairs, purchasing books and materials, upgrading computers and paid staff, what is their actual yearly budget?
Student use — “Build it and they will come?” Perhaps book circulation is high at the three children’s libraries in city schools, as well as middle school and high school libraries. Certainly there is easy access during school designated times. Smathers admitted children do not come after school. Why should they when they have all information in the palm of their hand, plus access to materials and computers in their schools?
Programming — Area public libraries offer programming for all ages, including family projects during COVID-19. For example, two ancient libraries are hubs of activity according to their Facebook pages. Check out Middlebury’s and Pawlet’s. Both have less than ideal access. Pawlet has “Strategic Planning Documents” for the next four years, year-round programming, and a “Community Connector to Lead Initiatives” led by a part-time person.
Space for programming will be limited at the new location. I understand Tuttle Hall is presently used by Community Health for staff and training purposes. Space is available in other areas of the city. Satellite centers where they are most needed and productive could be set up. Schools are underutilized during vacations.
A once-a-week reading program is the only activity listed on the library calendars. That has caused the reputation of “the noisiest library?” If additional space is needed, other unused/underused buildings in the center of the city could be used. The Wonderfeet Kids Museum, for example, is in the heart of downtown. The Chaffee is readily available. A head count of the youngest users and a discussion of programming and scheduled events is needed to justify a “contained area.” Parent-Child Center children are included in story hour. Perhaps this program could be held at their location for their safety. Staff would not be pushing carts of toddlers in the city streets to the library. Tiny voices will echo in that newer space “contained” or not. A library that is a community center will not be quiet.
Afterschool programs, year-round Recreation Department programs, the Wonderfeet Museum, Chaffee classes, and their interest in meeting needs, Boys & Girls Club, Project VISION events, Aububon activities, United Way, Godnick Senior Center, Kiwanis and other service organizations, Osher Lifelong Learning, book clubs, etc., are available. Do we need more programs?
Parking/traffic safety — Will be issues when the present gym is in full swing after COVID regulations cease. Has staff parking for Tuttle Hall, and necessary traffic/parking for the Heartland Project been considered? Present parking spaces are narrow, as well as roads and bridges leading to this facility. There is no guarantee extra buses will be available. If so, they will need room to navigate.
John Weatherhogg, Heartland Communities of America project director, stated “over 200 seniors” and “175 units” will be built in this area, including a memory unit. Where is the parking for residents, staff, rehab, supply vehicles, vans for trips (loading and unloading), etc.?
In conclusion, this situation would possibly not have occurred if the present RHS included a gym and auditorium in the original plans. The middle school gym would be used as it was intended for the middle school. Is this relocation of the library another example of poor decision-making skills? I have stated several reasons why this move would not be beneficial. The more thought/time I put into it, I realize more negative aspects.
Kathryn Adams lives in Rutland.