Given the current progress regarding facilities needs for the Newton Police Department, perhaps it should come as no surprise that the city has also set its sights on addressing another long-delayed building remodel project — the Newton Public Library.
"That idea, while it was a great idea, has languished because of a lack of funds. It's a little like the police station," said Mayor Barth Hague. "Meanwhile, the library suffers with a facility that is in many ways inadequate for the kind of programming it's trying to do."
Like the police station project, the NPL sought out a new facility — with the board and city staff even working to draft plans for a new building nearly a decade ago. However, with no funding source readily available, the project continued to be placed on the back burner.
As the facility continues to accrue needs, city and library staff (as well as board members) came together last month to begin discussion once again on how to proceed.
Similar to the route pursued for the NPD, Hague suggested that instead of an entirely new facility, perhaps the city and library staff could look at making upgrades to the current site that address resource needs — something library director Marianne Eichelberger said staff and board members are currently prioritizing as part of a new strategic planning initiative for the NPL.
"We've kind of gone through a re-envisioning process, the board and representative staff members, over the last year. We're trying to look into what we can do for the future to continue to provide quality library services," Eichelberger said. "Part of it is also looking at what direction we take with the library resources and plan for the future."
Discussing the library, the future always seems to be the time set aside to address any improvements, as Hague noted the issue of putting the building as a whole on any type of project schedule has never come to fruition.
"The library building has been in that capital improvement plan since as long as I can remember, but it keeps getting shoved to the bottom because there's always something that becomes a higher priority," Hague said. "Other than fixing things that break, there really have not been major upgrades to that building since it was built."
Most of the facility renovations have, in fact, addressed maintenance issues. Newton Director of Public Works Suzanne Loomis stated that the city has replaced four pumps on heating and cooling units this year, while the roof of the library was also replaced following a wind storm in April 2015.
Other such issues have been placed on the capital improvement plan for the coming years, which Hague admitted partially spurred this discussion. Addressing such items go hand-in-hand with the type of major renovations that continue to be put off.
The only other source of funding the library receives from the city outside of capital improvement projects is from a specific mill levy set aside for the NPL (which Eichelberger said makes up about 90 percent of its funding). Whether a new building or upgrades to the current facility are pursued, Hague realizes the city will have to take some action.
"I think we need to be moving projects like this forward rather than just sitting on the sideline and waiting for money to fall out of the sky. It's not going to happen," Hague said. "Sitting back and doing nothing is not an option. I've said that with the police station and I believe that's true with the library as well."
As a plan of action is currently taking shape for the police facility needs, Hague is confident something similar could be worked out for the NPL.
Questions of revenue to fund such a project — as well as if citizens of Newton would support such an issue if put to a vote — persist. With numerous maintenance items on the city's most recent capital improvement plan, such questions have to be addressed now and both the city and NPL staff look forward to continue working on a plan that best suits the library and helps provide for the Newton community.
"Library services are very important for the whole, broad community and we just want to stay up-to-date and look towards the future," Eichelberger said, "how we can impact the community in a better way."
"My hope," Hague said, "is that the library board, together with the city, can explore a variety of options — some may be expensive, some may not be that expensive — that we can consider that would help enhance library services in Newton over the next decade."