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City Poised For $18 Million Grant to Build Union Square Library

The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners put a large Somerville library project on its list of priorities. If built, the Union Square library would replace the current Highland Avenue building.

Somerville is in line to get an $18 million grant from the state for a new main library in Union Square, the city announced Tuesday.

According to the announcement, the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners added Somerville to its waiting list for a construction grant to build a new library.

Unlike a college admissions waiting list, the Board of Library Commissioners' list is more of a solid commitment, said Thomas Champion, a spokesperson for the city.

In order to receive the grant, Somerville must come up with a solid plan for funding the whole project, which is projected to cost $45 million.

The city will look at all options, including public-private partnerships, bonding and further grants, to come up with the money, said Champion.

If the project is eventually taken off the waiting for the $18 million, the city will have six months to demonstrate it can secure all the necessary fudning, he said.

Plans still developing

Then there's the question of where the new library will go. Champion said the current idea is to build it along Washington Street, next to the , around where is. Depending on where it's located, some things, such as Ricky's, might have to move, according to Champion.

However, he added it was "premature to talk about having to relocate anybody."

Double current library's size

The new library would more than double the footprint of the current main library on Highland Avenue, according to the announcement. It would include community meeting and exhibition space, study rooms, an outdoor courtyard and terraces, children's play areas, a 200-seat auditorium, a cafe and retail space.

The new facility would replace the as Somerville's main library, Champion said. He added there were no concrete plans for what would become of the current library, but said it could become a resource for or , both of which are next door.

The city's announcement said the city's proposal to the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners came after a series of public meetings in 2010 and an online survey that received more than 700 responses.

The Somerville Board of Aldemen issued an order in May 2011 approving preliminary plans for the library and authorizing the Somerville Board of Library Trustees to seek grants.

Part of developing Union Square 

"This generous award represents a major vote of confidence in our community-based planning process and our long-term commitment to maintaining a vibrant and creative library program," Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone said in the statement, adding it demonstrates "the state's support for our community, and to the ongoing developmnent of Union Square."

"This is a rare opportunity that Somerville has been given—to come together and build an iconic civic building—a new main library for all residents where they can meet, explore, learn, and dream," said Maria Carpenter, director of libraries, in a statement.

The Board of Library Commissioners publicly issued its new list of grant communities in May. Champion said the city waited off on announcing the news until it was further along in the planning process for fiscal year 2013.

Somerville approved a significant rezoning of Union Square in 2009 in anticipation of the Green Line Extension and transit-oriented growth it might bring. A large Union Square library would likely be a centerpiece of new development in the area.

Paul Lowenstein August 01, 2012 at 10:54 AM
Looking forward to hearing more about this, especially in regards to parking
jennifer D. August 01, 2012 at 11:23 AM
Oh please don't make Ricky's Flower Market move! Ricky's is the most beautiful place in all of Union Sq. and the owner is super nice, and once got a chair & water for my grandmother.
Rob Buchanan August 01, 2012 at 12:16 PM
Great news! I'm a huge fan of the library. Locating the library in Union Square will do a lot to promote its resources and programming in a place where there's a lot of foot traffic and other events. I didn't even know this was being contemplated. Obviously, parking and traffic concerns will need to be considered. I think the city needs to revive and revisit its 2010 streetscape visioning plan for Union Square--particularly as development efforts move forward.
Paula Woolley August 01, 2012 at 12:50 PM
While I would love to see a new, larger library for Somerville, I had hoped it would stay on Highland Ave, which seems to me more centrally located than Union Square. Although there is a lot of foot traffic in Union Sq and there will someday be a T stop there, many people will inevitably still drive to the library, especially if they're transporting a load of books plus a couple kids or if they're just running in to return books. So I agree with Rob that the city will need to think about all the extra traffic this move would bring to Union Sq.
Michelle Labbe August 01, 2012 at 02:21 PM
Love the sound of a bigger, more centrally-located library, but does it have to be so ugly? The Highland Ave branch has so much more character!
Michael Voolich August 01, 2012 at 05:03 PM
The idea of new larger library is indeed very appealing. But the biggest question of all is the "where." I'd be very leary of locating it near where the police station is now, especially given the underlying soil conditions of the area and all the mold problems that have occurred at the police station. Further, that area has huge traffic jams during the various rush hour segments. And it's lack of proximity to the high school might make it less accessible and less used by students, who are among the larger number of users of the facility. Just observing how library hours are changed during the summer(non-school year) confirms this. I too like the Idea of it's being on Highland Avenue which to my mind is more centrally located than Union Square, especially in terms of those who would actually walk or take a bus there. But the amount of available land on Highland Avenue poses a huge question, especially for a much larger facility. But let's not make a new library a Field of Dreams "Build it and they will come" type of place.
Jasmine August 01, 2012 at 05:07 PM
Union Square is a great place for the new library, but does it have to be so ugly? It rivals SCC's proposed low income housing project for ugliness. At any rate, it would be an improvement over the current building. Let's hope the city can come up with the money. Expect SCC to protest it for some reason. They seem to be against development that is good for anyone but themselves.
Somerville Home Owner August 01, 2012 at 05:41 PM
I like the idea of an improved library, but the library should stay on Highland ave. It is important that the library stay close to the high school, after all they will use it the most and need it the most.
Mike Podymaitis August 01, 2012 at 06:17 PM
I am hugely in favor of a new library also. Way past due. However as said, parking and traffic(especially during rush hour) in Union Sq. is a set back. Highland Ave won't work because the "foot print" of the new building is more that double the exsisting building and there is not that much space there. Despite the challenges I say get it done!
Nelson Labbé August 02, 2012 at 09:51 AM
A new library in the Union Square area would be a big plus for Somerville if done well. The hardest part is planning it well. Traffic and parking are important, but it shouldn't be designed and located with a car-centric mindset. The plans for the building itself should also have a thorough review of Building Science principles. Architects are great with fancy designs but terrible with Building Science. Somerville is the home of one of the worlds foremost building science experts. It would be fantastic if he were involved to ensure low operation and maintenance costs while maximizing a healthy building interior.
Joe Beckmann August 02, 2012 at 12:29 PM
It's odd that a new library will coincide with a vacant post office just across the street. And even more odd that the city never mentioned this option in any of the dialog about the SCC development two blocks away. And even, even more odd that nobody has thought of using the already owned Homans Building as a footprint for a transit-oriented library plan. And even, even, even more odd that this site doesn't yet articulate with the end of the McGrath. All of these changes are within 200 feet of each other. Where is the planning? Who is in charge? Why not a library where the post office now is? Why a 200 seat auditorium across the street from where the Mayor suggests a theater should replace the post office? And who would consider a $1200/month apartment for "low income" residents?
Paula Woolley August 02, 2012 at 07:16 PM
I think Joe raises some important questions about planning. I believe there's also a plan to move City Hall to Union Square, and to move SHS near Trum Field. With all these city properties moved away from Highland Ave, there would be a large piece of land left with gorgeous views and right near a new T station at Gilman Sq. I would much rather have public architecture that takes advantage of these views (a new library or SHS community room with a terrace overlooking Boston) than have a huge condo development spring up there. (And I should say that I love the existing SPL building and would prefer to see whether it could be incorporated into a new building.) Why not have a beautiful public building with a beautiful view? To Nelson, I would say that the location's relevance to cars and traffic is important; there's already a lot of traffic moving in all directions through Union Square at all times of day, while Highland Ave has bottlenecks in one direction during rush hour but otherwise is nowhere near as busy in terms of vehicles. All those idling cars, trucks, and buses moving through heavy traffic in Union Sq are adding more emissions to the air. Since there would be a T station near the current library site, in addition to 2 buses on Highland Ave and one on Medford, the current site would be easily accessed by public transit, as well as by SHS students, as Michael points out.
AHM August 02, 2012 at 10:25 PM
Got that big hole in Assembly Square now, can build it any size you want. Have parking for those that need to drive there and public transportation. Plenty of space there now.
Chris Devers August 09, 2012 at 07:33 PM
Great points here from Joe & Paula, and it has me wondering if there's an overall plan for all the building changes that the city is looking at: • In January, it was announced that the high school needs $10 million in repairs, and may need to be replaced. What plot of land in the city is big enough for a new school? I suppose Trum Field is one of the only spots big enough, but I hadn't seen anything about this one way or another until now. • The library wants to move from Highland Ave to Union Square, and Paula says that city hall wants to move there too (this was news to me), into the thick of all the changes Joe mentions. Are these being coordinated? • Plus there are school buildings that are either no longer being used (Powderhouse) or are once-and-formerly mothballed (Edgerly, Cummings), one of which may someday become a charter school, but mostly are just unexploited resources that the city is sitting on. • Plus there's the coming of the Green Line, and the station land it will need, as well as the eventual extension of the community bike path. Somerville is a small, dense city that doesn't have a lot of fallow real estate. If changes like these are being considered, are they being planned in context of one another to minimize disruption and ensure that the Somerville of 10 or 20 years from now is an even better city to live in? If so, great. If not, why not?
robert patacchiola August 17, 2012 at 09:53 AM
I am currently employed at the Cambridge Public Library (27yrs of service) we have a brand new library but with all its use of glass we are actually with less shelving than the older building. I suggest solid walls minimum glass make room to save collection and not have to weed constantly thanks robert
wenzday August 22, 2012 at 12:46 PM
a new library - great, an opportunity to modernize! Let me tell you about this great new thing called digital. Digital libraries can be accessed from anywhere, and take up very little space and require less manpower to operate. So you could cut the cost of this project dramatically and not disrupt other businesses in the process, saving lots of time and money. you're welcome.
Patrick August 22, 2012 at 03:51 PM
@Wenzday - Interesting suggestions on "modernization"! Have you talked with any librarians lately about their digital collections? If you have, or when you do, you will hear that such digital collections are most often available from vendors as subscription. Meaning the library will have to keep renewing it's subscription from one contract to the next in order to sustain access to books it may have once had on the shelf. The librarians will also tell you that from one contract to the next, the vendors' prices *never* go down. The librarians with whom you speak might then remind you that this change primarily seems to serve patrons who already own the technology (ereaders, tablets, etc.) used to access the digital collection. Which is all fine and good as long as the city is quite certain that the *vast* majority of library patrons already have that technology, or that the city is prepared to provide that technology to the patrons for free. Otherwise, the library would be admitting defeat in its mission to provide "materials and services that meet the educational, cultural, recreational and informational needs of all people in the community." See: http://www.somervillepubliclibrary.org/aboutus/mission.html In both initial capital outlay, and long-term costs, going digital should not be considered as the cheap option. It has many benefits, but that is not necessarily one of them. You're welcome.
wenzday August 22, 2012 at 04:15 PM
i appreciate that these problems currently exist. However, i believe these problems can be solved. free the information. dismantle intellectual property laws.
Patrick August 22, 2012 at 04:42 PM
While I sympathize with your position to an extent, it seems like an untenable position from which to plan a municipal expenditure.
wenzday August 22, 2012 at 09:35 PM
well they could just leave the brick and mortar library as is and use the 18 million to lobby congress for a change in copyright laws so they can "build" a modern system of accessing information (obvs j/k ;)
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