Library eyes expansion at old courthouse site

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Hampton officials request use of town-owned land for future project

By Nick B. Reid

Hampton Union, July 5, 2013

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

 HAMPTON — It's no secret that the Lane Memorial Library has been eyeing the newly vacated parcel of land across the street where the old courthouse used to stand for an expansion. But selectmen, who addressed the issue Monday night, are treading cautiously for the time being.

The library doesn't need more space for books that badly, but its meeting space isn't cutting it, according to Library Director Amanda Reynolds Cooper.

"In 2012 we had 787 events in this one crummy little space that is our actual meeting room," she said. "What we really need is space to be able to offer that to the public."

That's why she's partnering with Recreation Director Dyana Martin in her idea for the expansion to offer a quality meeting space that could be used for both the library and the recreation department.

"We could easily share a space because any function room, you leave it blank and then you could make it whatever you need it to be," she said. "She could do yoga classes and then I could have an author talk."

Reynolds Cooper also hopes that she'd be able to move the children's room in the library, which is currently two-thirds underground, to a newer, brighter space.

In order to do that, the town would have to give the portion of the parcel of land where the courthouse stood to the library.

"In a perfect world, the children's room would be on a floor with windows and light and nice air circulation," she said.

The prevailing discussion as to how the library might expand would include building where Academy Avenue currently is, with the road then being re-routed around the expansion. Selectmen Chairman Dick Nichols said the police and fire chiefs were against an earlier thought to close off that end of Academy Avenue so the library could freely expand over the road as well.

Selectman Mike Pierce, the first to address the proposal in which library trustees sent a formal letter discussing their idea to the selectmen, said there were more factors to consider before the board makes any decision on the future of that land.

"We've got some vacant area there. On the grand scheme in my mind before we get to the library we've got to think about (Hampton) Academy and what they're going to do because they've got some issues there," he said, referring to plans to upgrade the aging middle school.

Pierce said, according to the state Department of Education, "they need more land than they have, probably by some significant amount," based on the number of students at the school.

Selectman Mike Plouffe agreed that selectmen should "look into it," but not "rush into it."

Plouffe said "property is an issue" for Hampton Academy.

"If they decide they're not going to keep that building and do a new school on the land they have off Exeter Road, then some of these other proposals would perhaps be better, but until they kind of make a determination ...; I think we ought to consider their needs," he said.

Selectman Mary-Louise Woolsey agreed, saying, "I think this is way premature."

Reynolds Cooper said she's planning on reaching out to SAU 90 Superintendant Kathleen Murphy to better understand the district's plans for Hampton Academy, based on the selectmen's feedback.

Fred Welch said in this case, the town would be transferring land outside its jurisdiction to give it to the library, and that move would be done at Town Meeting, as would the appropriation of the money to build the addition.

"Once land is given to the library, it's theirs as long as the library exists or until such time as they surrender the property back. So you are, in fact, for all intents and purposes, without a deed, actually deeding the right to use the property forever," he said.

Nichols said parks and recreation, which also has an interest in benefiting from the expanded space, has a number of other priorities that have come up in recent years, including the Campbell Ball Fields project, as well as a community center. He said his first reaction is that "all of those things are not going to get done in the near-term future," and he wondered what the top priority was.

In addition, he worried about all the other costs the town is dealing with.

"I think we're quite a ways — maybe a year or two, best case — from having our arms around the DPW infrastructure-type issues: roads, sewers, storm water, wastewater treatment plant and so on and so forth. I'm not in favor of major investments in other areas until we really know where we stand with that end of things," Nichols said.

Reynolds Cooper said even if the library had to wait several years for the land, it's difficult for its staff to plan without knowing what's coming.

"Say this addition is three, five, eight, 10 years out, there's no way that we can plan without knowing that we have some expectation that we can have that land. Really that's the first thing we're looking for is just that notion that if we engage an architect and start drawing up plans and have focus groups and all those things, we can anticipate that we can actually build on that land when it gets to that point," she said.

Cooper also insisted the plot is the only place the library could ever expand.

"The schools do have other land options; the library does not," she said. "There's nothing to any other cardinal point around our building other than this space. If we can't be expected to build on it at some point, the library will not get any bigger."

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