By Richard Gaines
---- — The Sawyer Free Library’s $750,000 landscaping and parking lot construction project was not planned to begin with the removal of a very large, but diseased Norway Maple tree from the northern front of the property on Dale Avenue — but that’s what happened Monday morning.
“We weren’t holding up the project until we decided on what to do with the tree,” said the library director Carol Gray.
But, she said, Peter Dennen, the city arborist and Dan Mayer, the president of Mayer Tree Service of Essex, both advised the library that the Norway Maple in question — about 32 inches in diameter at the base — was structurally decayed “more than 50 percent,” according to Mayer, and “leaning toward a heavily traveled public street and sidewalk.”
“Due to the decay present and the target area if there should be a catastrophic failure,” Mayer wrote, “ I would recommend removal of the tree as soon as it is feasible possible.”
As recently as May 2, the library board was considering protecting the roots of the now former tree, an invasive species, from the foundation of a planned small amphitheater at the corner of the library grounds nearest Central Grammar apartments and Dale Avenue.
The first phase of the project involves regrading the replacing the walkway from the front of the library down to the side entrance and the amphitheater.
A key part of the first phase is rebuilding the handicapped-access ramp now leading off Dale Avenue to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The current ramp is deteriorating and is too steep to meet ADA standards, the library said in a release.
The second phase involves the construction of the amphitheater and steps into the property from Dale Avenue and the final phase involves the construction at the back of a paved parking lot with 35 to 36 spaces including two for handicapped parking for employees and patrons of Gloucester’s busiest public building and non-profit business — as well as its oldest.
Greg Bover, head of the building and grounds committee and a member of library’s Board of Trustees, said the fund-raising “was in pretty good shape,” but added the estimate of the cost, $750,000 — including $75,000 approved for use in the project by the Gloucester Community Preservation Committee, the City Council and Mayor Carolyn Kirk — was subject to adjustment, and that the board continued to solicit donations for the project.
Bover said the project entails drainage, electrical work as well as landscaping and the construction of the new parking lot, the land for which was acquired following a bequest to the Sawyer Free Library in 2003.
The board is struggling to figure out the best way to operate the parking lot for the use of employees and patrons in a neighborhood with a severe shortage in on street parking. Since the acquisition of the parking lot properties, across the Central Fire Station and behind the rebuilt Lorraine Apartment building and Temple Ahavat Achim, the parking lot has been an unpaved empty lot with de facto open access.
“We’ve been considering many different options for the management of the parking lot,” said Bover, but no clearly superior approach has been settled on, he added.
The bequeath of the money for the land now to be converted to a parking lot was made in anticipation of a $14 million library expansion that was shelved in 2007 after voters declined to authorize a $4 million override that would have leveraged $7 million from the state Board of Library Commissioners.
On May 2, Dan MacRitchie, project manager for the library, wrote that the “proposed amphitheater foundation is only a few feet away from the base of the (now removed Norway Maple) and I am concerned that the tree will be impacted by the excavation that is necessary in that area.”
MacRitchie brought in Mayer to evaluate the problem, which led to the diagnosis of the tree as an invasive species and a diseased one at that.
Gray said there is also a linden tree near to the entrance walkway to the library that might be best removed due to its location and lean though she said the board has not discussed what to do about the linden.
She described the issue of the linden as a classic less-is-more dilemma.
Without it — along with the removal of the Norway Maple — what would be left standing is a healthy, old and handsome copper beach tree, which was so prized that when the “new” wing of the library was designed in the mid 1970s, the foundation was pulled back to protect the roots of the beach.
The project, ending with the construction of the new parking lot in back, is projected for completion this fall.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.