Sawyer Free Library is moving ahead with plans for a 15,000-square-foot-addition on its School Street side, part of an estimated $28 million project meant to bring Gloucester’s library into the 21st century.
“What we are looking at is a renovation addition that will bring us into the future,” said Simon Paddock, chair of the library’s Capital Projects Committee and a library trustee.
The Gloucester Lyceum and the library have served the nearly 400-year-old seaport from the corner of Dale Avenue and Middle Street for 138 years.
Library officials recently previewed what the “2025 Sawyer Free Library” project will involve, saying construction will start in early 2023 and take approximately 18 months.
During construction, the library will remain open and move to a temporary location that has yet to be determined, said Jenny Benedict, the library’s director.
The project will be funded through philanthropic donations supported by an integrated media fundraising campaign that launched this week.
A $9.3 million matching grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners Construction Grant Program is expected to pay for a third of the estimated cost. A provisional grant announcement is expected this summer.
Including the grant, the campaign has raised $14.1 million. The library is already well trod, as nearly 15,000 people, just under half of Gloucester’s population, hold a library card.
Library officials said the goal is to increase annual visits by 25%, public programming by 25%, and the number of programs hosted by numerous partner agencies by 50%.
Board of Trustees President Mern Sibley said a lot has changed since the Monell Building, the library’s main building, was completed in 1976.
Library officials said the present library lacks meeting space, restrooms need to be updated to be fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and there are no private reading rooms. The building’s systems are at the end of their useful life, and the building is not suited for today’s technology.
The original library, the historic Saunders House, was built in 1764 and converted to library use in 1884. It was added onto in 1913 and again in 1976. The Saunders House is presently used as staff offices and storage. A separate project is planned to restore and open it to the public.
The push to update the library dates to 2016, when officials submitted a schematic design to the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners to replace the Monell Building in its entirety.
However, the community rejected the concept, preferring the way local architect Donald Monell’s building reflected the Cape Ann Museum across the way on Pleasant Street.
“We listened hard and out of that came the idea of renovating the existing building,” Paddock said.
Paddock said plans are in the design and development phase, which includes refinements to the interiors and exteriors. Oudens Ello Architecture of Boston is the architect, and it is in the process of selecting a construction manager.
In February, the City Council approved “construction manager at risk” as the preferred procurement method for the project. This method allows the project to have the construction manager involved much earlier in the process.
What will be in the renovated library?
The project will use a portion of the parking lot at the back of the building, something Paddock said has always been contemplated.
“That space was made available for the addition early on in the project,” Paddock said.
Plans call for the first floor to be a large reading room with book stacks. There will also be a quiet reading room and a 14-seat conference room.
The second floor would be dedicated to children and teens, areas now on the ground floor. A teen room will feature a creation space where teens can do homework, meet friends, or explore creative interests.
On the ground floor, plans call for a 100-seat community meeting room with a kitchenette, presentation area and flex space offering after-hours access.
Plans also call for a digital maker space with an audio and video recording studio on the ground floor.
The ground floor would also feature a climate-controlled Local History Center that chronicles Gloucester’s history.
Paddock said accessibility, sustainability, health and safety have been key components of the project, and the front entrance on Dale Avenue will be made handicapped accessible, which it is not now.
The Matz Gallery where local artists display their work will be expanded in the walkway connecting the library and the Saunders House.
The project preserves the popular outdoor amphitheater out front.
Peter Lawrence, a member of the Capital Projects Committee, said the project also aims to tackle climate change as the buildings will be LEED Gold Certified Net-Zero-Ready with energy efficient systems, solar panels and battery backup that could serve as an educational demonstration project. The library plans to secure a 100% renewable energy source for the additional electricity.
Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-675-2714, or email@example.com.