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Newport Library staff and consultant ponder the future of the facility

Newport Town Hall on Library growth challenges

Newport Town Hall on Library growth challenges

LIbrary Director Ted Smith

LIbrary Director Ted Smith

Library consultant Ruth Metz

Library consultant Ruth Metz

A new library to replace the current one could run over six million dollars

A new library to replace the current one could run over six million dollars

Newport Public Library staff, with the help of a consultant, charted a way forward Monday evening toward a future that finds the library more vital, more relevant and better equipped to meet the information, communication and education needs of the community – a place where all citizens meet face to face, share ideas, explore new community choices while also providing a gathering place for families.

But Library Director Ted Smith told the gathering that in light of the recent voter passage of a bond for a new municipal swimming pool, “there’s no way in hell that we’re also going to get them to approve a new library anytime soon.” Smith and consultant Ruth Metz then proceeded to lead the discussion on what CAN be accomplished in the interim – which they say is between now and the year 2035, when a new library should be constructed. That new library, they say, has an estimated sticker price of $4.3 to $6.7 million dollars – either at its current site or somewhere else.

Metz said after a thorough analysis of the current library, it’s obvious that there are some opportunities to more efficiently use what space is available – but there is a limit to what can be done because there is only so much space. Re-arranging shelving, furniture placement, better coordination of the way adjacent areas are used, especially at the same time, etc, can help. But the fix that can keep the library humming for the time being is spending upwards of $380,000 to modify the library’s interior walls, doors and other construction items in addition to more furniture, shelving and flooring. The $380,000 is an estimate but it illustrates what the library, the library foundation and library staff must raise to make it all happen – either through private donations, government or private grants or some help from the city. The city, of course, is facing its own challenges replacing its long-neglected sewer and water distribution systems, along with storm drains which are expected to cost millions a year just to keep those services running.

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In addition, the library has a short-term need to upgrade its internet and other computing services for the public at a cost of around $94,000, with an additional $14,000 a year just to maintain the equipment to keep it running smoothly.

But the long term goal is to create a library by 2035 that serves the growing population of the Newport area. And that likely involves expanding the facility from 17,000 square feet upwards to 27,000 square feet – with more electronics, more reading areas, children’s program areas, community meeting space and all the other functions that make a public library what it’s supposed to be – a gathering place for the community to develop and share knowledge and ideas that lead to a better future for the community.

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Metz, the Library Foundation Board and library staff all agree that the library must become more aggressive at telling Newport area residents, of which a large proportion have library cards, all that the library has to offer as well as what it envisions for the future. And it must impress upon the public the costs involved in maintaining high standards of library offerings.

No particular time line was targeted for the short, medium or long term goals. A lot of that depends on how the money comes in through what will surely be a myriad of sources.

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