MANCHESTER - The Mark Skinner Library has received approval for the design for a new library to be located at the corner of Route 7A and Cemetery Avenue from the Design Review Board, with a 4-2 vote, during a meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 6.

The design of the new library will be a one-story, 12,000 square foot building with a partial basement. There will also be a section called the children's barn that will be used as the children section of the library.

Betsy Bleakie, the executive director of the Mark Skinner Library, believes the new building has much to offer to a wide range of age groups. Everything from toddlers to the elderly will have a way to connect with the new library, she said.

This rendering shows the design of the new library officials of the Mark Skinner Library hope to start construction on later this year.
This rendering shows the design of the new library officials of the Mark Skinner Library hope to start construction on later this year. (supplied photo)

"The lower level is where the Manchester Historical Society will be housed for their collections," said Bleakie. "We will also have our seminar conference room that is available for use and for rent that a company could come in and rent out."

There will also be "touchdown work spaces" that are meant for short-term business people who can use that space as an office if they are away from there regular office located elsewhere.

"Those are meant for short-term business folks who may have there main office over the mountain and they just need a quite, private space that they can count on," said Bleakie. "If you need something to rent for the week or a month and have your own private place, that will be available."

To pay tribute to the extensive history of the now old Mark Skinner Library building, there will be a room named the Mark Skinner Reading Room that will be the provide the library with a primary space where people can interact.

"That is really going to be like your community living room where you can read, do research, and converse with others," said Bleakie. "It might be a place where you can relax and just enjoy yourself. We want this library to be a vibrant, electric kind of place, not a quite and 'shush' kind of a library. With technology and this sea of information at our fingertips that only makes sense."

The design of the new building also includes an area called the children's barn that will allow for kids to have their own space while at the library. There will be a crafts room for where activities, events, and story times for toddlers, said Bleakie.

There will be another room for just middle school level kids called "the loft," which is a place where kids from grades five to eight can hang out after school in an environment that focuses on learning.

"That will house furniture, computers, resources, areas to hang out and work, study in groups, to do group projects, get homework help and just hang out with friends after school," said Bleakie.

There will also be an area of the library called "cafe commons" that will give people the chance to grab a coffee and sit and talk with a friend or two, read the newspaper or listen to music while doing a little work, said Bleakie.

"It is much more than just a library. Much more than just being about books," she said. "Books are sort of one thing that we will have to help people be more informed. No matter what stage of life you are in there will be something at the library for you."

Bleakie said that the new building will offer everything from teaching the elderly how to use email and social media to better communicate with their children and grandchildren to having the ability to try and learn a new language.

The presentation at the DRB meeting was given by Chris Cole of the Cole Company of Manchester, who is also the property manager for the project, and chairman of the board of directors, Mike Ryan. The new building is designed by Johnson Robertson Associates out of Somerville, Mass. Cole said that a "mock-up" of the building will be constructed in a few weeks to give everyone an idea of what the actual building will look like in person.

Along with the library moving to a new location, there will also be a name change to the building. Currently, the idea is to name the new library the Manchester Community Library because the library will be used more like a community center along with a library, said Bleakie. Bleakie said that the name of the building is not set in stone and could be changed if a large donation is made by a family or individual that would prompt the building to be named after them.

The total cost of the project, including acquisition of the property, is $6.6 million. $1 million of that will be put into doubling the libraries endowment fund. They currently have $2.5 million raised, which leaves $4.1 million left to be raised by the time they hope to break ground by the end of April.

The Mark Skinner library was first established in 1897 and was built by Francis Skinner Willing, who dedicated the building to her father, Mark Skinner, a Chicago judge and philanthropist who was born in Manchester and returned to live there every summer. In 1964 the building was enlarged with an addition that doubled library space. A new wing of the building added an expanded circulation desk, open reading room with high ceilings and large windows, and a basement reading room.

For most of its history Mark Simmer Library was governed and operated as a private library. In 2003 it was converted to Manchester's public library, supported partially by taxpayer funds and partly through endowment and fund-raising.

To contribute to the capital campaign call Betsy Bleakie at the Mark Skinner Library at 382-2607 or email Christine Miles, a former chairwoman of the library's board of trustees, at cmiles@manchesterlibrary.org.