By Rod Lee
In one sense residents of the town of Grafton have been blessed, in having at their disposal a handsome and historic public library situated in the best of all possible places: on the Grafton Town Common.
In another, they have been cursed, in being asked to depend for far too long on a ninety-year-old building that doesn’t meet the needs of a growing membership.
It is understandable, then, that euphoria was through the roof, so to speak, on the appropriately sunlit morning of November 6th, during a groundbreaking ceremony for the first major upgrade of the structure in years.
The official phrase being used to identify the initiative is “The Time Has Come.”
An illustrious lineup of speakers starting with Doug Bowman of the Library Trustee & Building Committee hailed announcement of the renovation and expansion of the facility. Mr. Bowman was followed in order by State Rep. David Muradian, State Sen. Michael Moore, Julie Grace of the Building Committee, Roland Ochsenbein who is chair of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC), Grafton Town Administrator Tim McInerney, Selectwoman Jennifer Thomas, Library Trustee Aaron Vandesteen, Dana Wilson who is heading up the Capital Campaign for the $16.6 million project and finally Library Director Beth Gallaway.
As Ms. Grace put it in her remarks, on the very spot where an addition and extra parking will transform the library into a modern 27,000-square-foot facility over the next fifteen months or so, “we were lucky to find DRA Architects (of Waltham) to develop a really beautiful building that is well-suited for this site.” Mark Sullivan, OPM (Owner’s Project Manager), who she described as “a great resource, who is guiding us,” and “CTA Construction (of Waltham)” round out “a full team.”
Andy Deschenes, clerk of the works, is part of this collaboration as well.
In the interim, the library has relocated to the former St. Andrew’s Church at 53 N. Main St. in North Grafton. Hours and services remain the same. That transition, as might be expected, moving some 55,000 items, was not easy, Ms. Gallaway said on November 12th. The church is “rustic and adequate, but far from ideal”—limitations on staff being one consideration. “But we are doing the best we can while keeping our eyes on the prize,” Ms. Gallaway said.
Several of those who addressed the crowd that gathered for the ground breaking picked up on Mr. Bowman’s statement that “a lot of work including a town vote” has gone into turning a dream into reality. Ms. Gallaway and her staff have been at the forefront of this effort, Mr. Bowman said, building membership and making the library “a vibrant place to go.”
In noting that “50% of the cost” of the buildout is coming from the state, Rep. Muradian said in addressing Ms. Gallaway, “Beth, you have worked your butt off for this.”
In affirming his legislative colleague’s appraisal, Sen. Moore said “there is a lot of controversy around libraries. The public asks, ʽwhy are we spending so much on libraries?’ But they really are the pillars of education” (Roland Ochsenbein of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners echoed Sen. Moore’s opinion by quoting renowned American historian David McCullough as saying “the most marvelous of all public institutions are libraries”).
The drive for an improved Grafton Public Library “started around the time I got elected,” Sen. Moore noted.
The crucial financial underpinning began to come together in July of 2017 when the town was awarded a $7.4 million grant from the Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program, or MPLCP, administered by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners—covering 48% of the estimate costs. The town’s share of the project funding is $9.2 million, a healthy portion of which has been raised so far. The eminently qualified Dana Wilson is the perfect person to drive the goal forward, Ms. Gallaway said.
Excitement for the final result is running high. The upper level (Common entrance) will include the historic main reading room showcasing beautiful original Palladian windows and woodwork, as well as meeting rooms, collections and services for adults. The lower level (Upton St. entrance) will house youth services’ space and collections including a children’s programs room and teen-tween programs and gaming rooms, several tutoring rooms and mechanical and electrical equipment rooms.
Ms. Gallaway is particularly pleased in anticipating the inclusion of a 117-seat community room that, she says, will be available “for local organizations and other groups to use, and we’ll be able to hold our own programs on site and have enough shelf space to archive and display materials and to provide more public-access computers.”
The story of the Grafton Public Library dates to 1858 when $1000 raised by five-dollar shares established the Grafton Lyceum in “Stockwell’s tailor shop” in the same location the library occupies today. Another $1000, from the Hon. Joseph Leland, in 1866, made possible combining titles from the Lyceum and the Farmer’s Club at the Grange. The lending and circulating of books began in April of 1867.
In 1902, a donation of $100,000 from Jerome Wheelock—in exchange for “a state of heroic size” to be placed on the Common—proved to be the seed money for construction of a Colonial Georgian-style building designed by Boston Architect Oscar Thayer. Though a “simple box shape” in design, the building was not without its flourishes. A paneled front door, centered, was topped by rectangular windows and capped with an elaborate crown supported by decorative pilasters. The cornice was embellished with attractive moldings. A portico-covered porch served as the entrance.
“When I was hired in 2008, we didn’t even have this land,” Mr. McInerney said. His family, especially his three boys, twins, age nine, and one age twelve, have used the GPL for books and research.
Now a plan is in place for the parcel Mr. McInerney referenced to yield a great return for the town.
As Jennifer Thomas of the town’s Select Board said in heralding the importance of the building, “libraries, I view as the heart of the community. I see this building as a community center, not just a library.”
Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.