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HISTORY OF THE BOYLSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY
The first library in Boylston was a private institution established in 1792, only six years after the town was founded. In 1880, librarian George L. Wright encouraged members to convert their association into a public library that was then located in a room of the current stone Historical Museum, then the Town Hall.
The present library was built in 1904 on the original site of the old Center School, built in 1841, and which in turn replaced the second meetinghouse of 1792. The First Parish deeded the land parcel to the library, thus the Town of Boylston, so long as a library occupies the site. The library building was a gift of Salome E. White in memory of her mother, Harriet Sawyer of Sawyer's Mills, a village now covered by the Wachusett Reservoir. It was designed by Worcester architects Fuller & Delano.
Boylston then had a population of only 1,370, making the gift of a 4,000 square foot library with 5,500 volumes a point of local pride. Many old photos show the library in the center of town, often with groups posed under its central arch or including the trolley tracks that ran up Rt. 70 from Worcester to Clinton. From 1929 until it was closed in 1959, there was a small branch library in the Morningdale section of town established to meet the reading needs of that growing area.
In 1976 the basement was converted into a Children’s Room, and in 1994 a handicapped-accessible wooden ramp was added to the front entrance. More intense use over the years resulted in serious overcrowding which led to the first expansion proposal in the late 1980s. At that time, two major needs for library space were evident. One was the need for a meeting room for the library's community programs. The building also lacked sufficient shelving space in each department. In the 1980s, it was realized that developing technological advancements for new information sources would be difficult to deliver in such cramped spaces with insufficient electrical wiring.
In 1983, the non-profit Boylston Public Library Foundation Inc. was established to sponsor community events and to raise funds for an anticipated expansion. This group is still active and maintains an independent treasury dedicated to library improvement. In 1985, the architectural firm of Mark Mitchell and Associates was hired to create a schematic design for an expanded library. This schematic design was never utilized, as it was independently determined that the required funds could not be raised in the declining economic environment of the period.In
1997, the Foundation asked the six-member publicly elected Library Board to create a Needs Committee. This committee was composed of 16 individuals from the Trustees, Foundation and the local community, and was charged with assessing the feasibility of expansion and with initiating the process. The Needs Committee conducted a public survey in 1998 that indicated broad-based support for the expansion of library services with particular emphasis on computer access, videos, and children's programs.
In 1999, the Library was awarded a State Planning and Design Grant by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC), and the Trustees retained the firm of Cheryl Bryan Consulting to prepare a Library Building Program with community input. Following completion of the Program, an architect selection process was initiated and the firm of Richmond, French Design was selected in July 2000 and a Feasibility and Schematic Design Report was completed in December 2000. In 2001, the library applied for, and the MBLC awarded, a $1,646,000 capital construction grant tor renovation and construction of a 10,000 SF addition. Private funding contributed another $480.000 and $1,720,000 was voted at Town Meeting in the fall of 2003. Unfortunately, the project did not go forward because of difficulties obtaining the required variances and special permits.
In 2007 a new 12,000 SF library was proposed on the Hillside site in Boylston, and the architectural firm of J. Stewart Roberts Associates prepared a schematic design. In March 2008, Boylston Town Meeting turned down a measure to provide funding for construction of this new library building. The declining economy, the lack of a commercial tax base, the expected burden of higher school costs on residents, and citizen desire for the library to remain at its historical location in the center of town were cited as the primary reasons for failure of the vote at that time.
Upon the failure of the March 2008 town vote, the Library Trustees engaged in a number of initiatives to define, with certainty, what the townspeople of Boylston wanted from their library. These initiatives included the hiring of an independent consulting firm, a town-wide survey, interviews of the Boylston Public Library Foundation Inc., Friends of the Boylston Library, Board of Selectmen, and study of the future of library services to determine what the realistic needs of the Boylston Library building truly were.
In summary, it was determined that:
1) Citizens wanted the library to remain at its present location in the center of town;
2) Citizens generally supported maintaining the Boylston Library but did not support a large, expensive library building; Maintaining expenses was a priority;
3) Boylston library users were regular users of larger libraries in adjacent towns;
4) Given anticipated changes in general technologies, library technologies, and the changing dynamics of patron readership, Boylston did not need a library with expanded browsing and working space;
5) A community room was desirable, but not a town requirement.
In 2009, a decision was made by the Library Trustees to proceed with a three phase renovation of the existing library without expansion. In August 2009, the firm of R. E. Dinneen, Architects and Planners, Inc. was retained to investigate the feasibility of undertaking these renovations to the existing facility.
Phase I of the library's renovation plan was approved at the Annual Town Meeting in May 2012 and completed in August 2013 by Poulin Construction, Inc. Elements of Phase I included a new septic system to replace the cesspool, a new ADA ramp and deck, and a new front door with a push button automatic opener meeting the goal of making the first floor ADA compliant.
Phase II of the library's renovation plan was approved at the Annual Town Meeting and at the Annual Town Election in May 2015. Elements of Phase II included the installation of an ADA compliant lift, a remodel of the Children's Room, a new staircase, new bathrooms, substantial upgrades to the library's infrastructure, and an expansion of the parking lot. Library operations and materials were moved to space at Town Hall, and returned to the completed building in May 2017.
Phase III was undertaken using residual funds from Phase II. In 2021 Architects Lerner Ladd and Bartels were consulted for a project to replace the roof and remove the obsolete chimneys, repair of the gables and eaves, and install new insulation. As the two chimneys showed structural failures and were causing severe water damage inside, they were removed at the beginning of 2022.
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