Over a year after the community library moved to its temporary location in the University Mall, the South Burlington High School library has undergone its own improvements to better meet student needs.
Students are well-acquainted with the changes made, but for community members who used to frequent the space, what does it look like now?
The community library, which had shared resources and space with the SBHS library since 1971, opened in early December 2018 following a September city council vote to enter a three-year lease at the mall.
The need for a larger, stand-alone library for the community was due to the library’s growth in collections and programming. A 2004 facility study identified the need for expansion, followed by Library Steering Committee focus group sessions (2005-2006), and a 2006 feasibility study. A City Center Public Facilities Task Force in 2013 also recommended that the library, in addition to City Hall and the recreation department, be relocated to the City Center Tax Increment Financing District.
In the meantime, the city hosted workshops for a proposed new library/city center/senior center on just over a half an acre on Market Street south of Rick Marcotte Central School and east of the Allard Square senior housing building.
A November 2018 ballot measure on the project — which asked taxpayers to vote on a $20.4 million bond for funding, the conveyance of three easements at the Rick Marcotte Central School property to the city for parking, utilities, and access to the proposed building, as well as leasing the current city hall building to the school district – passed by a nearly 3-1 margin. The lease to the school district from the city would be for three years, with two, three-year renewals, along with an option to buy the property. The lease would be $10 a year, and if the district chose to purchase it, it would be valued at $10.
All the while, the South Burlington School District – which had reaped the benefits of shared collections and services, information technology support, and custodial services, and the fees paid by the city to the schools for the use of the space – had to quickly come up with a long-term, data-driven plan for the high school location.
Under the previous arrangement, the city paid the school district $62,000 annually for the use of about 10,000 square feet of library space.
This loss in revenue, coupled with the loss of shared resources, resulted in some changes in the SBHS library space.
New at the SBHS Library
Although the entrance from the parking lot is now closed off, a summer upgrade added a new Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant entrance and exit. The shelves have been reorganized, a ramp has been added to the lower racks, furniture has been replaced, and the floors have new carpet.
The library now boasts new spaces to accommodate the variety of students’ learning needs. Students seeking a quiet place have a separate room reserved for just that, as well as individual spaces for solitude throughout the library. Students who visit to complete group work have the option to use a “think tank” room, small and large table groupings in the main library area, as well as booths surrounded by student art. There are also comfortable seating areas for small groups, one of which is situated in front of a cozy fireplace adorned with literary selections on and around the mantle.
There is also an audio-visual room with a green screen and recording area.
“The feedback has been very positive,” said SBHS Librarian Genevieve Gallagher, who joined South Burlington in her first year when the move took place. Coming in then allowed her to tap in to her previous experiences with other libraries and adapt to the change.
“Having a variety of spaces dedicated to specific uses has really helped the library function as a space with multiple uses,” she said. “Our new tables and chairs all have wheels that make re-configuring the space for meetings, events, or classes much easier.”
Prior to the community library separation, the school moved from a paper sign-in sheet process to an electronic sign-in system that students use by scanning their student ID cards.
“This not only gives us important usage data, but it creates an accurate roster of students in the library,” Gallagher said. “This year, we have seen a large increase in library use with close to 60 percent of our students using the library each week and an average of 480 student sign-ins per day.”
When interviewed for the Nov. 30, 2017 edition of The Other Paper, Gallagher reported an average of over 300 visits by students to the library each day for needs ranging from finding a book, looking for a quiet space, to studying with a group.
In terms of staffing, the library has one full-time certified school librarian, one full-time library media technician, and one part-time library media technician during the evenings. Hours of operation are from 7 a.m- 6 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and until 3:20 p.m. on Friday.
Funding for these improvements are incorporated as part of a capital improvement bond issue, which passed on the March 2018 ballot. The South Burlington School District recommended that projects be funded through the issuance of up to $950,500 of general obligation bonds, as it was expected that zero percent of the project costs would be eligible for state school construction and because there was a moratorium on state school construction and funding.
The 2018-2019 school district budget states that $150,000 of those funds would be used to make improvements to the high school following the exit of the city library from the school. The other projects include upgrades to athletic facilities at Munson Field and some small safety, security, and ongoing stewardship projects at all five schools.
“Because the items are expected to last or function for over 20 years, we think it is important for the cost of these items to be spread over those 20 years,” Superintendent David Young wrote in a statement in the 2018-2019 School District Budget.
He goes on to explain that this would allow for intergenerational equity bonding to help spread the cost of long-lived improvements across future taxpayers rather than requiring current taxpayers to pay for benefits received by future residents.
In the first year of a bond, the district is obligated to budget half of one year’s interest expense, $20,010. The first five years debt service expense for the bond averages at $79,842.
In the meantime, students will continue to use an upgraded library they now call their own.
“There’s been a significant increase in the popularity of the library as a gathering space for students,” said South Burlington High School principal Patrick Burke. “It’s been interesting to see that despite the fact that information is readily available via technology and research can be done from almost anywhere, our high school students still have a clear need for a thriving library space on campus.”