By Polly Mikula
Rutland Free Library has drafted a memorandum of understanding to purchase the former College of St. Joseph administration building, including the Giorgetti Library, with plans to move from its current location downtown within the next year.
“We’re honored and excited to give the library a new home — so much time and care has gone into this decision,” said Sharon Courcelle, president of Rutland Free Library (RFL) board of trustees. “This is an opportunity for Rutland Free Library and its patrons to thrive in a space designed for education, community and service.”
About 75 people participated in a Zoom call Monday night, Dec. 7, when RFL Director Randal Smathers formally announced the plan. Attendees included library trustees and staff; city, state and U.S. representatives; and community leaders.
The new building provides the space and resources needed to grow existing services and save taxpayers money, the Rutland Free Library (RFL) said in a statement, Monday, Dec. 7.
“When we realized that we could do it cheaper, save the citizens of Rutland probably a three-quarters of a million dollar bond, do it for $300,000 less than we could do a so-so renovation here, and provide better services, it just became so obvious that we needed to move forward with this project,” Smathers said.
The new location will also offer easier public access including off-street and handicap parking, a new dedicated children’s area and separate teen space, a dedicated local history/genealogy space, classrooms and boardrooms, more security, and more room for the collection.
Additionally, RFL trustees mentioned the benefits of co-locating on the campus with the City Recreation and Parks Department, nearby athletic fields, partnering with Heartland Developments to offer Tuttle Hall Theater for free public use, and, in the future, co-locating with the planned senior living facility.
After the announcement, U.S. Representative Peter Welch commended Rutland for its hard work, leadership and cooperation. He said Rutland is demonstrating what it means to prioritize the future for its community.
“What other town in the midst of a once in 100-year pandemic, literally, would decide to move ahead and put a stake in the ground for the future by relocating its cherished library. I mean that’s ambitious!” said Welch. “It’s a town that’s totally engaged in its future that can find the energy and the stamina to do the incredibly hard work of relocating the library and take advantage of the opportunity that’s there with that space available at the CSJ…. what I just really love is the fact that you’re not being held back because there is this extraordinary challenge that we’re living through in this state and in this country and that is inspiring because we have to have hope,” Welch continued. “We will get through this to the other side of Covid but when we get there we don’t want to leave education behind or our small businesses or our ambition to have a better library that’s going to serve Rutland for well over another 100 years.”
The option to move from downtown wasn’t made without consideration of its impact. Even though the new location on the former CSJ campus is just 1.8 miles from the current library, it will no longer be within easy walking distance from Rutland City’s downtown.
The city-owned building at 10 Court St., however, didn’t attract as many patrons via foot traffic as it did those with mobility issues, Smathers explained. And the new facility would better serve those folks, he added.
The library has been a tenant of Rutland City without a lease (or rent payment) since 1938. RFL has been a good steward of the building, investing some $250,000 in capital improvements in the past five years, and will return the building to city taxpayers in good condition, even if it’s no longer suited for library service, RFL said in a statement.
When explaining how RFL board members and trustees came to the conclusion that a moving the library would serve the community best, Smathers admitted that the option was not even on the table, at first.
“We thought we had our plan, we had talked with NBF Architects at length, they did some preliminary sketches for us and we were set, we were good to go. It was going to cost $1.5 million — 3/4 of a million (half of that money) was going to come from the library, from the savings we made over the last 33 years and the rest of it we were going to ask citizens of Rutland to do a bond, as they have in the past in support of Rutland Free Library. We were getting ready to spend that money, to tell NBF to go ahead and do the final planning for us.
“But the board, in its wisdom, said we have to do our due diligence. That it would be inappropriate for us to just go ahead and spend all that money without making sure we have done all our due diligence. Those of us who have been around the city for 10, 15, 20 years, our whole lives… all said ‘no, the library is in the right spot, let’s just move the process forward’,” Smathers related.
It was then that RFL’s newest board member, Catherine Picon, who has only lived in Rutland for about a year, heard a rumor that there was a vacant library at the former CSJ campus.
“I have to admit, the idea came after I dropped my son off at basketball practice one morning,” Picon said. “As I was contemplating what I could do while he was inside. I looked at the library and started to think ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if that library were still open and I could read in there while I wait?’ I think this is something that we can all relate to as parents.”
Picon brought the idea to the next RFL board meeting.
“Those of us that have been around, were like ‘You know, you’re right!’ It was really an embarrassing moment,” Smathers said laughing.
RFL then started doing due diligence on the space at CSJ.
“Is it big enough? Yes. Does it work? Yes. Is it flexible? Yes. Is the building in good enough condition? Yes. Can we afford to purchase it and do the renovation it needs? Yes. Everything checked off all the way down the line. Yes, yes, yes — It just made complete sense.
“And that brings us the the point we’re at tonight,” Smathers said, Monday. “We’re confident that we’ve done our due diligence to bring Rutland area residents a site that will work. It will bring you a better library… with all the features that we’ve been told by world-class architects that we need — CSJ is the kind of library that we should look for for the next 20-30 years.”
“The old building served the community well, but it was originally built in 1858 and hasn’t had a major renovation since the 1980s,” he continued. “Demands for services have changed since then and continue to change, and that building is simply not designed to meet the needs of our users, now or into the foreseeable future. The new home of Rutland Free Library will allow us to meet the expanding needs of our community in the 21st Century.”
The “luxury of a parking lot” at the new location also did not escape Picon, the mother of six. In addition to those with mobility issues, parents will appreciate the added safety and accessibility, she said.
“If you have ever circled the presence building more than one —or more than three— times and tried to unpack little ones on a busy street, you will know my pain,” she said.
The current library is located in a city-owned building designed as a courthouse and post office. It would need extensive renovations to continue providing library services, RFL determined. The estimated cost of building updates, including interior remodeling and repairs to the mechanical systems and exterior, was calculated at approximately $1.5 million.
By contrast, the building at CSJ was originally built as St. Joseph’s Hall in the 1960s and has been renovated twice, once adding a second story and once to create a centerpiece library out of the former gymnasium, in 2006. The library itself was the end result of a $1 million capital campaign. In 2016, the school received a $2 million grant to update the internet capability of the campus, including the library.
The option to move the Rutland Free Library to the former CSJ campus will save city taxpayers an estimated $750,000, Smathers said.
“This historic move will position the library for growth and success in the years to come, and save the city taxpayers in the short- and long-term,” said Rutland City Mayor David Allaire. “I look forward to the successful future of the Rutland Free Library.”
Smathers said RFL will be able to buy the CSJ building without additional money from the city nor would it necessitate a fundraising campaign. Additionally, the new facility is expected to be cost-efficient immediately allowing RFL to start to rebuild its reserve funds right away.
Starting with the announcement Monday, Dec. 7, the board and administration of RFL will be seeking public comment from the greater Rutland community to ensure the library’s new home serves as many people as possible. The public engagement period will last about two months, Smathers said.
A public comment page has been set up on the library’s website for its members.
Taking into account public feedback, a final design for the space will be complete by the end of May and work is expected to begin in June or July.
If all goes according to plan, Rutland Free Library hopes to be moving into the new space in the fall of 2021.
“A library is not a building, it’s people: the people we serve, the staff, and our supporters,” said Smathers. “We look forward to continuing to serve the citizens of Rutland City, Rutland Town, Mendon, Tinmouth, and Ira in our new home.”