Buoyed by an influx of cash from the city two months ago, the Woburn Public Library Foundation (WPLF) is gearing up for a donation drive that hopes to add about $3 million toward the comprehensive $31.5 million addition and renovation project planned for the spectacular 19th century H.H. Richardson building.
The foundation, which consists of about a dozen volunteers, met this week and will be on hand when the library’s board of trustees hosts a kickoff event on Sunday, at the library to honor the John Frizzell, whose family has contributed a sizable grant to the expansion and renovation.
“It’s an exciting time for the city and the library,” said Larry Rideout, President of the WPLF. “The city’s vote (to contribute the $13.5 million bond authorization) has given us momentum and we’re looking forward to raising the funds we need to make the expansion and renovation project a reality.”
The Woburn Public Library was built in 1879 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Located downtown, just off Woburn Square, the building is perhaps the most recognizable edifice in the city.
As a library, however, the building outgrew its space a long time ago, and there are sections of the library – particularly the children’s room – which are no longer inviting to visitors. The stacks on the top floor of the library are inaccessible to patrons.
The need for upgrades to the library was identified as far back as 1908, but the need for renovation or addition to the library became more acute and garnered more attention as the city headed toward the 21st century.
After the City Council granted the authorization to apply, the board of trustees secured a $9.9 million grant from the Mass. Board of Library Commissioners, but the grant had a deadline of this December, and the project was still far short of the bottom line number needed to go forward.
Up stepped Mayor Scott Galvin, who this summer decided to contribute $13.5 million to the project. The City Council approved the bond authorization in September, and suddenly the library project was back on the table.
“The library is obviously an important part of our community, and once we were able to make the numbers work, we came forward with a financial schedule that both allowed us to make a substantial contribution toward the project while at the same time taking into account our taxpayers,” Galvin said. “And the City Council, to their credit, saw the need to upgrade the library and approved the appropriation.”
The average residential tax bill will rise about $35, but due to the city’s superlative financial status, officials were able to seek the bond authorization rather than a Proposition 2 ½ override, or a debt exclusion, which are traditionally non-starters for Woburn’s taxpayers. Only once have Woburn voters approved a debt exclusion, for a new Woburn Memorial High School and a White Elementary School.
Even with the state money, the city’s contribution, trust funds, tax credits and some creative engineering that reduced the cost, there is still the aforementioned $3 million gap that the WPLF has pledged to close.
“They’re a very dedicated, sincere group of residents and I’m sure they’ll work hard,” Galvin said.
The foundation was formed in 2013 and its mission statement “highlights the importance of the limitless opportunities that free access to information offers for the future of our community. A strong and vibrant public library provides a world of knowledge and resources, which empowers a community to build its future.”
Members of the WPLF are: Rideout, Terry Bryne Dalton, Eileen Doherty, James Foley, Sue Klawans, Jennifer Mahon, Sheila Tracey McElhiney, Connie McGilvary, Claire Murphy, Meghan Needham, Elaine Conley Pierce, Donald Queenin, and Lila Tocci.
Based on initial design plans prepared by Boston’s CBT Architects, the new addition and renovations to the existing building will involve some 49,903 square feet of space.
The new wing, to include two full floors topped by a mezzanine, will be situated at the rear of the property — a design element meant to ensure the view of the main building from Pleasant Street is not impeded or drastically altered.
Though there is less glass than in a previous iteration of the project — rejected in 2011 by city officials due to its high cost — the new building addition is peppered with large glass windows that face towards the original library in an attempt to give visitors a sprawling view of the 135-year-old H.H. Richardson edifice.
Inside the addition, which will be fully equipped by elevators and other handicapped-accessible features, a new children’s library will be situated on the first floor. On the second floor, library officials plan to locate a young adult book section, as well as a reference materials and a circulation desk.
The upper mezzanine section will be dedicated towards non-fiction materials.
The new spaces will enable librarians to create an art gallery, as well as viewing areas for other historical artifacts that had previously been stashed away in the old building’s attic. Library officials also say the project will result in the establishment of new community meeting rooms, as well as private study areas.
In budget documents prepared by Hingham-based construction estimator A.M. Fogarty & Associates, the renovations to the existing 1879 building will cost roughly $7.3 million, while erecting a new wing on the rear of the library site carries an approximate $12.1 million price tag.
Site work, bonding insurance, the acquisition of new technology and furnishings, and contingency accounts established to cover inflation and unforeseen expenditures raise the estimate to $28.5 million, while payments to contractors and other miscellaneous expenses round out the project’s overall $31.5 million budget.
One creative way the WPLF is looking to raise funds will be through naming rights. Rideout said all the naming opportunities will be inside the building – donors will have the ability to pay to have the rights to name sections and wings. There will be no exterior naming rights. You won’t see neon signs from corporate sponsors.
The foundation is also looking beyond Woburn toward regional contributions, as the renovated, expanded building will not just be the city’s architectural jewel, but is also expected to be one of the foremost structures in all of Massachusetts, if not New England.
“We have our work cut out for us, but we’re looking forward to the challenge,” Rideout said. “The library is a beautiful building, and once we’re done with the addition, it will also be a functional building that the community can utilize and enjoy for many, many years.