MELROSE — The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) announced last Thursday that the City of Melrose will receive a $7.9 million grant to preserve and restore the historical Melrose Public Library while making critical enhancements to accessibility and safety.
“This project has been in the works for many years, and while there is a long road ahead, this is an exciting development and important step in helping this project come to fruition,” said Mayor Paul Brodeur.
The City submitted the application to the MBLC in January 2017 with the approval and support of the Mayor, Library Board of Trustees, and the Board of Aldermen (now City Council). In July of that year, MBLC provisionally approved the grant and placed Melrose on a waiting list. As of July 8, Melrose is next in line to receive funding.
The project will move forward pending City Council approval.
“The repair and renovation needs are tremendous, and we simply cannot continue to use a band-aid approach to maintaining our infrastructure,” said Brodeur. “If we wait for a crisis, we’ll have missed out on this significant funding opportunity and it will be too late. If we want this historic building to be here in 100 years, we need to act now. Former Mayor Rob Dolan said it best back in 2016: to leave this money on the table would be a ‘generational sin.’”
The city will have to come up with money as well, although at this time the exact amount is not known. It is not a dollar-for-dollar match, however, and local officials are still in the process of seeking additional funding sources. The library’s needs have grown in the time since the project was first proposed. It is expected that the grant announced last week would cover about 40 percent of the work.
The proposed design for the library will preserve the historic 1903 Carnegie façade, while addressing health and safety, accessibility, and space needs. Once renovated, the library will have a front entrance accessible to all patrons. Currently the only wheelchair accessible ramp is located at the back of the building and at 76 feet in length, poses a steep and challenging climb. Other additions will include a dedicated teen room, community meeting rooms, and more.
“These needs are longstanding and we have seen phenomenal public support for this project since we began the process back in 2013,” said Library Director Linda Gardener. “As our struggle to accommodate the current needs of our community increases, we are excited to embark on this new phase of the process.”
Chief of the Melrose Fire Department, Ed Collina, noted that the current layout of the building poses significant safety concerns, as it is difficult to navigate and confusing.
“In an emergency, seconds count, and the last thing we want is delayed response times due to a complicated floor plan,” said Collina.
If the project moves forward, the library will move to a temporary location for the duration of construction. For nearly a year during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Melrose Public Library closed its doors to the public but remained open for front door service and offered a wealth of virtual programming. Gardener is confident her team will leverage the same agility and creativity to continue to provide exemplary library services through the transition.
“We didn’t miss a beat and rose to the challenge of continuing to meet the social, cultural, and educational needs of our community,” said Gardener. “The pandemic has emphasized what we in the industry have always known: that libraries are not a luxury—they’re essential.”
MPL serves not only as the City’s cultural and educational epicenter, it is also a social hub and a cooling center. As a centrally-located municipal building, many residents seek respite during extreme heat events. The current HVAC system is near the end of its life, which results in uneven heating and cooling and uncomfortable conditions for patrons and staff. The renovation will address this need, enhancing the air quality in the building, and ensuring its continued availability as a shelter from the elements. The MBLC grant award also includes a Green Library Incentive of up to an additional $279,765 for energy efficiency measures to ensure these systems are as efficient as possible.
“To turn down this opportunity would do a disservice to our residents and future generations of Melrosians,” said Mayor Brodeur. “There is no better time to do this than right now with this pot of gold in front of us. This investment will pay dividends for years to come.”
Representative Kate Lipper-Garabedian and Senator Jason Lewis also voiced their enthusiasm for this project.
“I’m thrilled that the State has awarded the Melrose Public Library nearly $8 million to renovate this community treasure,” said Representative Kate Lipper-Garabedian. “As a frequent patron for both myself and my sons, I am excited that our historic building will become truly accessible to the entire community and that library leadership and staff will be able to set up and offer programming and classes, technology, and meeting spaces to meet the needs of the City. My family and I also look forward to the next Friends of the Melrose Public Library mini golf event once the renovations are complete as we expect a new, exciting course layout!”
Senator Jason Lewis echoed these sentiments, saying, “A new public library will be a wonderful asset for the entire community, and I’m very grateful to everyone who has been championing this project for many years.”
Individuals with questions about the renovation are encouraged to contact MPL Director, Linda Gardener at firstname.lastname@example.org.