Easthampton Library taking public input as it preps to apply for state funding to revamp new space

A former Bank of America Building owned by Easthampton Savings Bank which is being donated as a possibility for a new location for the Easthampton Public Library.

A former Bank of America Building owned by Easthampton Savings Bank which is being donated as a possibility for a new location for the Easthampton Public Library. gazette file photo

By MADDIE FABIAN

Staff Writer

Published: 11-13-2023 3:05 PM

EASTHAMPTON — The city’s public library has stood on Park Street for over 140 years, but that could soon change as officials pursue state funding to move and revamp services in a new space.

As part of that process, the board has been gathering community input through public forums and a building survey.

“We have this beautiful, really well-built historic building, but it’s also unfortunately really inaccessible and lacking in some of the spaces and needs of a modern library,” Library Director Katya Schapiro said.

“What I have heard from groups is a real enthusiasm for this project and a real understanding that our current space and services aren’t adequate to the city’s needs,” Schapiro said.

Some of those currently unmet needs at the library — formerly called the Emily Williston Memorial Library — expressed by community members, according to Schapiro, include a need for community spaces, computer accessibility, spaces that allow free movement, accessibility, comfortable furniture, good lighting and aesthetically pleasing spaces.

“The library provides a third space that anyone can access and anyone can feel comfortable in and find services in,” said Schapiro, adding that it’s true for all generations. “I think the more we can continue to fulfill that mission, that’s going to be our most important use.”

A 2020 study of the building’s condition concluded that — with no elevator and the children’s area inaccessible to people who cannot use stairs — the space is not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Furthermore, there is limited parking and no opportunity for expansion.

Since then, the board has sought a new space. In January, the library’s board received an offer from BankESB to take over 52 Main St., formerly occupied by Bank of America, for free.

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“It’s a building that has a lot of possibilities,” said Schapiro, adding that it is central to the city, is walkable, has parking and is “nicely placed to be a part of the new Main Street development.”

Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program (MPLCP) grants help free public libraries pay for major capital improvement projects, from initial planning through construction.

Schapiro said that over the last two years, she has been looking at newly built and existing libraries in the area, taking note of their useful features and drawbacks.

“What I’m seeing is just really well-used spaces that take advantage of the specific features of any given city,” she said, adding that the Westhampton Public Library “incorporated a little building in a really innovative way” amid surrounding rolling hills.

In Easthampton, Schapiro said, “We have a burgeoning arts community and all these studios; we have City Space making use of the Old Town Hall. So we want to work with all those groups to make sure that what we’re offering is integrated and helpful.”

The grant application is due in May, and a decision will be made around November of next year. If awarded the grant, the library will enter a planning and design phase, and then a construction phase.

In the meantime, the library encourages residents to look out for future opportunities to share input in focus groups, and also at a survey which can be found at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/M73NJHF.

Maddie Fabian can be reached at mfabian@gazettenet.com.