City Sponsors Third Meeting on Proposed Renovation of the South End Branch Library

A third city-sponsored meeting on the proposed renovation of the South End Branch Library was held as a hybrid event on Wednesday, June 12, both in person at the Blackstone Community Center, as well as virtually.

​The project has a capital budget of $30 million, and at between 15,500 and 16,500 square-feet, the renovated library would mark a 40-percent increase from the branch’s previous size of 9,400 square feet, said Brett Bentson, a principal at Utile Architecture.

The currently shuttered South End Branch Library.

​In the renovated library space, the approximately 3,200 square-foot Adult Area, which includes a Local History section, will accommodate 12,500-13,000 volumes, as well as 36 seats, which marks a 33-percent increase from before; and 12 computer stations.

A 2,760 square-foot Children’s Area, which includes the Tweens Area, Story Time Area, and Crafts Area, will comprise 13,250-13,750 volumes; 36 seats – a nearly 13-percent increase from before; and  three AWE (early learning) computer stations, said Bentson, while an 835 square-foot Teen Area would include 3,000 volumes; 12 seats – a 200-increase from before; and four computer stations.

The renovated library will also offer 2,290 square feet of community space, including a meeting room that could accommodate up to 100 people; a multi-purpose meeting room, with eight to 10 seats; two study rooms, each with four to six seats; and a ‘phone room’ nook that can accommodate one or two people, said Bentson.

Also, the renovated library would include 970 square feet of staff space, added, Bentson, while 1,480 square feet is designated as Central Services space, including a borrower’s desk and restrooms.

​The building renovation will result in a “modest,” 7,600 square-foot expansion of its footprint, said Bentson, extending 9 feet into the Library Park. This extension won’t impact any of the park’s existing trees, however, he added.

​“Views into the park are tremendously important,” Benston said of the renovated library branch’s design.

​Since the South End, and particularly the site of the library at 685 Tremont St., is vulnerable to flooding, both now and in the future, the first floor will be elevated around 29-30 inches above grade, said Bentson. In response to the proposed grade change, a ramp and elevator will be created to provide access from the sidewalk. (The library, which opened in 1971, has been closed since falling prey to flooding in September of 2023; it also suffered an earlier flood the previous April.)

​Longtime South End resident and neighborhood activist Stephen Fox expressed disappointment that the third floor would be home to only exterior mechanicals, along with staff and support space, rather than serving as another usable level of the library that could serve the public.

​Fox added that the conversation with the city surrounding usage of the third floor is “essentially closed,” although he said he has been continually asking to meet with the city on this since the ‘test-fits’ for the renovated library were unveiled during the city’s second public meeting on the project held virtually in February.

​ (‘Test fits’ were described then by Bentson as 3-D depictions, which are not design proposals and “fit together like Lego blocks” to show how different construction arrangements would fill the site.)

​“I think it’s flawed. I don’t think it’s worked for me as member of community,” said Fox, adding that he would like to see a “full-throated conversation  [with the city] about the third floor.”

​Also, Fox predicted that the proposed 9-foot ‘encroachment’ into the alley would likely pose problems for neighbors who regularly access the alley.

​Rep. John Moran requested that the renovated space offer a culinary program – something he believes could help foster a sense of community around the library – and suggested that a redesigned third floor could accommodate such a program. He added that if this isn’t already in the budget, he’d be willing to see if he could secure state funding for the program.

​Bob Barney, a longtime resident of the Claremont neighborhood, urged the project team to include a food pantry in their plans for the renovated building.

​Barney also asked whether the project team had taken into consideration the growing population of the South End when determining the square footage for the renovated library branch.

​“I think the library should not just be built for now but for the future,” added Barney.

​Carol Blair, a resident of Northampton Street in Chester Square and neighborhood activist, emphasized the necessity for the renovated library to offer ample room for the community, especially given the loss of so many other community spaces in the South End.

​David Leonard, president of the BPL, replied that the renovated library would include one large  community room, along with four smaller community spaces.

​While the city states the project is now being fast-tracked per an ‘accelerated process,’ Leonard said it would likely be completed within 12 to 18 months, with a worse possible case-scenario of three years to finish the project. (Leonard said he would provide an exact timeline for construction at a future meeting.)

​Judith Klau of the South End was dismayed by the expected timeline, saying that it is way too long for the neighborhood to be without a library.

​“I don’t understand why space can’t be rented [in the meantime],” said Klau.

​The next public meeting on the project is expected to take place in late summer, or possible early September, and will include more developed design plans, with furniture; landscape developments; and sustainability initiatives, according to the project team.

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