By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
MEREDITH — On Monday, shortly after the trustees of the Meredith Public Library informed the Board of Selectmen that they would study the feasibility of building a new library on land near the roundabout where Daniel Webster Highway joins Parade Road, they learned, to their surprise, that the only alternative site would no longer be available to them.
At the center of this turn of events is the town's relationship with the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program, which in 2014 awarded the library a matching grant of $70,000 to make repairs to the Benjamin M. Smith Memorial Library, which opened in 1901. In May this year, the trustees announced their intention to relocate the library. Not long afterward, Dijit Taylor, executive director of the Land and Community Heritage Program wrote to Beverly Heyduk, who chairs the board of trustees, to say that her "board members were taken aback to learn of the possible plan to relocate the library." In her letter Taylor cited the library's grant application, which carried "the clear message ... that the building will continue as the public library in its current location for many years to come." She closed by strongly urging the library trustees to reconsider their decision.
Meanwhile, in July the Conservation Commission announced plans to add to the Page Pond Town Forest on Meredith Neck by purchasing some 200 acres in a transaction expected to close at a cost of $1,125,000. Mark Billings, chairman of of the commission, told the Board of Selectmen that the project would include setting aside a 4.5-acre parcel at the intersection of Pleasant Street and Barnard Ridge Road as a site for a new library should the trustees choose to avail themselves of it. Furthermore, he said that the Conservation Commission would apply to the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program for a share of the funding for the project.
However, this week after Heyduk announced the trustees' plans for the feasibility study, Billings told selectmen that the Conservation Commission had decided to remove the parcel designated for the library from its proposal. He explained that the decisions as made "in the hope that is some way, in some form it will help to appease the consternation that exists on the LCHIP board and make ours purely a conservation effort and not get in the middle of the library issue."
Erin Apostolos, the library director, said that she contacted Taylor out of concern for the Page Pond project and was told that the two issues had nothing to do with each other. "She didn't see that there would be any issue," she said.
But Town Manager Phil Warren disagreed.
"Looking from a distance," he said, "we could put the Page Pond expansion in jeopardy if we were to continue with the library parcel." He said it was his understanding that the library trustees were not considering the site.
Heyduk said she had anticipated meeting with Warren and Billings to discuss the matter, but no meeting has taken place.
"It was not our choice," she remarked, "but, it doesn't look like we have a choice." She said on Tuesday that she was "blindsided" by the request to remove the parcel for the library from the Page Pond project. "I'm a little disappointed we were taken out of the mix," she said.
Heyduk stressed that the trustees have reached no decisions. She said that trustees will weigh the feasibility of constructing a library on a portion of the so-called "Robertson property," a 13.4-acre lot on the south side of the roundabout, owned by Wilfred and Linda Robertson. "We've investigated may properties," she said, "but if someone comes to us with a suggestion, we will consider it."
Yesterday Heyduk wrote to Taylor to clarify the circumstances surrounding the trustees' application to the Land and Community Heritage Program for the grant and subsequent decision to relocate the library. She said as early as 2010, and certainly in 2013 when the grant application was made, the trustees believed that the First Baptist Church next door intended to move to a new site and would sell its property to the library, which would allow them to expand at its current location. In October 2013, the trustees received a letter of intent to that effect from the church. But, in March 2016, at the first of eight public meetings to discuss the future of the library, the pastor of the church announced that the church would not move for another five or 10 years, if at all. Consequently, after public meetings and professional advice, the trustees voted to move the library in May, when Apostolos informed the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program of the decision.
This location on the Meredith roundabout is one possible spot for a new location for the public library, but concerns about the funding provided to the library from LCHIP may scuttle the move altogether. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)
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