An ideal offer for the Easthampton’s library comes with a caveat


Staff Writer

Published: 01-12-2023 7:52 PM

EASTHAMPTON — The city’s public library might have an opportunity to move into a downtown location that’s more accessible to the public, has more space and has public parking available — for free.

While the deal seems too good to pass up, members of the nonprofit that governs the Emily Williston Memorial Library have concerns that if they accept the offer to take over the former Bank of America building on Main Street, they won’t be able to afford the space unless the city significantly increases funding for its operation.

Additionally, the president of the Public Library Association of Easthampton, which governs the library, told the City Council Finance Committee on Wednesday that all signs point to the library’s closure should it continue under its current operating and financial model.

“If we continue the present funding arrangement, what will happen is we will cannibalize our endowment and we will have to close the doors to the library within five years if this does not change,” Elizabeth Appelquist said. “And believe me, this is not something that we are throwing out arbitrarily, and I’m not saying it for shock value.”

For the past year, the board of directors has been actively searching for a new space. Maintaining the Emily Williston library, which opened in 1881, proves challenging the longer the building is used and the more repairs it needs, according to Appelquist.

The building, at 9 Park St., has undergone three major renovations: one in 1930 when the basement was renovated, a second in 1966, and a third 52 years later when the foundation was repaired in 2018.

An 2020 study of the building’s condition by Jones Whitsett Architects Inc. of Greenfield found that the structure is not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Although there is a ramp in front of the building, there is no elevator inside, and the children’s area is not accessible to people who cannot use stairs.

The current space also has very limited street parking and no opportunity to expand.

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Through the search for a new building, Appelquist said the board became very interested in the former Bank of America building at 52 Main St.

“It has the capacity to expand and we can renovate it in a way that will suit our needs with meeting rooms and ample parking. We could not ask for a better location,” said Appelquist. “BankESB owns the building and has recently stated that they would be willing to donate the building to the library.”

BankESB purchased building in May 2020 for $2.1 million, according to property records.

A bank spokesperson said at the time that they didn’t have a direct use for the building. The intent was to ensure that a future owner keep the structure within the style that complements the city.

Appelquist said that while the offer is generous and exciting, it will only work if the city increases its current appropriation amount.

Budgetary needs

During the meeting, Chuck McCullagh, who is an advocate for the library and the chief financial officer at The Williston Northampton School, outlined the challenges with the library’s current model.

“We do nothing, I can guarantee you that the library will be nonexistent in five years,” he said. “It’s just a financial reality. We just cannot operate the way it is right now.”

In researching the funding levels of libraries in the state, McCullagh found Easthampton ranks 348th out of 369 in terms of municipality support for library budgets, according to data from 2021. For the fiscal year 2021 budget, the city provided $216,466, which was 49% of the library’s operating budget. The library operates as a private nonprofit.

The state average for municipal support to libraries is 86.3% Locally, South Hadley supports 97.7% of its public library’s operating budget, Hatfield 93.8%, Westhampton 93.5%, Southampton 85% and Northampton-Forbes 73.9%

“Whether we like it or not, Easthampton is down toward the bottom,” he said. “I think in so many ways Easthampton is doing so many remarkable things right now, this is just one area where I think we have to just turn our attention to it and see if we can do better in this area.”

McCullagh also noted that the current building has accumulated deferred maintenance and ADA compliance requirements that cannot be addressed. Any repairs to the building are also costly because the library is considered historic.

Aside from the maintenance challenges, the staffing and programming at the library is underfunded, he said.

McCullagh recommended employee salaries and benefits become part of municipal government in order to stay competitive and maintain staff. He also suggested increased wages and benefits.


McCullagh also suggested hiring a full-time professional fundraiser and establishing a fundraising database.

In the past year, the library had set a goal of fundraising $35,000 for the library, but was only able to raise $7,500, according to Lori Ingraham, vice president of the board of directors.

“It was really hard for us as a board to go ask for money,” she said. “It was also hard because we truly were asking for operating budget money and (it’s) hard to make that sale to the businesses when we weren’t doing like a capital drive.”

In order to renovate the new space to meet the needs of the library, the board of directors is proposing the library, as a nonprofit organization, borrow money from Mass Development and also work with state Rep. Dan Carey, D-Easthampton, and Sen. John Velis, D-Westfield, in trying to establish some financial earmarks for the building.

From Katya Schapiro’s perspective as the library director, a new modern space can mean separate study and reading spaces, and dedicated programming space that will allow multiple programs simultaneously.

“As a library, we can do a lot with a little, and we make every effort to provide quality services with what we have, but an institution unsure of its future has to limit its dreams, and much like a human being unsure of the future, can become depressed and less effective,” she said in a statement.

Emily Thurlow can be reached at]]>