The Library’s Next Chapter

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Thursday September 21, 2017

With recent news of the South Burlington Community Library’s impending move to the University Mall occurring later this fall, community reaction has been mixed. While some have lauded the move as a long awaited step in the process toward the creation of a standalone library, others were taken by surprise and expressed concern regarding transparency and how quickly this decision was made. At the September 5 City Council meeting, members voted 4:1 to approve a three year lease with the University Mall (UMall) for a transitional space for the library. Tom Chittenden voted “nay” given the number of phone calls and e-mails he had received in the weekend prior, suggesting to delay the vote until the September 18 council meeting.

Of the many questions, the most prominent are why the UMall, and why now?

City Manager Kevin Dorn has been trying to find a transitional home for the library for the last four years and looked at a number of spaces prior to settling on the former DEB space next to Bon Ton. Most recently he considered the storefront vacated by EMS, and looked at space at the Design Matters location on Dorset Street; both locations were priced too high to be considered. Dorn had several criteria that needed to be met in order to be deemed acceptable and only the UMall met all of them, he said, from price point, to parking, and being on a bus line. He noted that there were compelling reasons to make this move now, with safety and space at the forefront. The recent school lockdown, which put patrons and staff at risk, and the misuse of the library’s bathroom space by some members of the public, along with concerns about staff working conditions were all factors that came into play.

What will it cost?

The three-year lease, at $3,500 per month for the 7,800 sq. ft. space, is $17,500 less per year than the current fees paid to the school district. Dorn reported that “there’s virtually nothing that needs to be done to the space. It’s move in ready, tile is in good shape, there’s ample parking close to the entrance, and most importantly, it’s in City Center.”

According to Dorn, there are three components to the process going forward: the fit-up of the mall space for library purposes, acquiring the furnishings and fixtures needed, and third, the move itself. The plan is for the move to take place over a weekend in order to minimize disruption to the high school. The cost for a mover is estimated at $5,600. The city is also exploring creative ways to get the community involved in the move such as having people check out books from the current library and return to them to the new one, with an extension of the due date from three weeks to six. The library anticipates being closed for three weeks to accomplish the transition, with an opening at the mall in mid to late November.

Dorn estimates it will cost less than $20,000 to do the fit up of the space which will include the installation of some plexiglass windows in the interior, a wash basin for rinsing childrens toys, and a glass door positioned behind the metal door that will come down at night, as is the case with all mall shops and restaurants. The glass door will help buffer noise and keep children from wandering out of the library into the mall.

A broad estimate of $110,000 was given at the September 5 meeting for furnishings, fixtures, computer equipment and library management software. Some new computers are already in the budget and the program for a new catalogue system has come in at under $5,000 for the first year, which includes set up fees. Office Environments, a South Burlington business, conducted the design work for the mall space and will be the source for the furnishings. Costs for the furnishings and movable walls and shelving are unknown at this time.


The Library Board of Trustees has expressed support for the library staff and the upcoming move. They acknowledge that real estate transactions are not publicly disclosed, but they were taken by surprise when details surfaced regarding the timing and suggested use of finances bequeathed to the library for the move. The Blanchette Fund, which was established by Paul Blanchette in 1998 as an endowment, currently has a balance of just under $400,000. It was established for the purpose of supporting a new freestanding library, but is the source from which Dorn was hoping to secure some monies to cover the furnishings for the temporary space, since those will ultimately move to a new library. Dorn explained that due to this fact, one could view the purchase of these items as a “pre-investment” in a new library. But, at a meeting with the city on September 11, the library board, who ultimately holds jurisdiction over how those funds are dispersed, emphatically disagreed on the use of the Blanchette funds for the transition and rejected the notion.

The city acknowledged the board’s decision, and will pay for the move, fit-up, fixtures and furnishings, with money from the city center reserve fund.

Impact to School District

When High School Principal Patrick Burke and Superintendent David Young were contacted a few days after this announcement, neither was prepared to make a statement regarding the move as they work to determine next steps for the district budget and the high school library. In the current arrangement, the city pays the school district $62,000 annually for the use of about 10,000 square feet of library space, which will equate to a loss of revenue for the district in a year where they are already being asked by the state to clawback their budget by $304,000.

The high school will continue to use the library space as such, but the public will no longer have access. Library patrons will have access to the use of computers in one hour sessions in the new space at the mall, where the number of computers will be bumped up from 4-6.

Library Perspective

Library Director Jennifer Murray, who has been in her current position for the past three years, said that the transitional move will give her staff the opportunity to determine what they will need for a new library. The high school and public library are talking about ways to continue to share collections as needs arise. The library has been in the process of separating the collections between the city and school and while the city’s collection totals around 50,000, an estimate as to how many volumes will actually move has not yet been made. Murray said there are areas they will have to fill in, since the high school’s collection of graphic novels, and career and college titles will remain in place. The community library will also have to augment their Young Adult collection. Other areas in non-fiction may also need building, but Murray notes they won’t know the details until they have actually separated the collections. While the work is in progress, Murray encourages people to ask for staff assistance, particularly when looking for non-fiction.

As for the move itself, Murray said, “I’m excited about meeting more South Burlington residents who visit the mall, and inviting them to use their library. We are looking forward to having a library meeting room too, a place for kid’s and adult programs that we use exclusively.”

However, there are challenges involved with the move. For example, the mall space, at 7,800 square feet, will have less than the 10,000 square feet the community library regularly used as their portion of the shared space with the high school. As a result, the library will be taking a smaller collection to the mall location, “but will work hard to keep it varied and relevant,” Murray relayed.

The Transition

The lease with the UMall is for three years because it is anticipated to take that long to get through the RFP (request for proposals), design, and build process for a new library, should the voters approve this item at a March 2018 vote. At the September 5 meeting, the council considered and unanimously approved a purchase and sale agreement between South Burlington City Center, LLC and the City of South Burlington to acquire property for the future location of a Community Center contingent upon voter and other approvals.

The city’s hope is to get RFPs for design services by the end of October in order to give voters a visual depiction of what a new modern library could look like, and to start to build a budget for the project. The city will also need to do its due diligence around the property itself, including permitting and locating a firm to build the structure, which could take 18 months in a best case scenario, according to Dorn.

If the city can’t get the support of the voters after two or more times at the polls, Dorn said that they will need to question the community’s desire to buy, or bond for a new library, and would need to talk to the Library Board of Trustees about what’s next.

For their part, the UMall is happy with the lease arrangement and sees it as an opportunity to partner further with the city and community at large. Heather Tremblay, VP of Property and Asset Management at the University Mall said, “There have been temporary tenants in the space since the Deb moved out in March 2015. We are excited to have the library move in and feel it will be a great addition to the center. Malls around the country look for unique tenants to offer customers an experience that enhances the traditional mall shopping trip and the library does just that.”

Hours of operation for the new public library at the mall will be 10-8 Monday through Thursday, 10-5 Friday and Saturday. The library will be closed Sunday. There will be a book drop outside the mall for after hours drop off with the exact location to be determined.

Ultimately, Dorn said he would not have taken this item to the council and community if he hadn’t thought that both parties would be better served with a transitional library. From his point of view, it also helps move the community toward the vision of a free standing, modern library.


SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent