You may have heard rumors about the proposed West Branch Library Renovation Project and the tree and garden destruction it would involve. Here’s an overview of what’s going on:
The West Branch of the Somerville Public Library is in drastic need of renovation. All agree on that. However, the current project design also calls for the paving over of the gardens presently surrounding the building, replacing them with a “low-maintenance plaza space,” and the construction of a meeting room extension onto the existing building. Here is a link to the design plans:http://www.somervillema.gov/sites/default/files/160229_Somerville%20WBL%20Community%20Meeting_FINAL.pdf
The plans for the present garden areas are disturbing. Over the decades, the Somerville Garden Club (which is not associated in any way with this opposition) has designed and maintained lovely gardens around the library and has planted several significant trees, including Somerville’s only Dawn Redwood, two Columnar Beeches, and a Fernleaf Beech, among others. All are rare and mature and are great landscape features.
The current design plan would remove all of these trees.
The proposed plan also raises a number of other issues:
First: it flies in the face of the City of Somerville’s policy of maintaining and acquiring new open green spaces. The past 20–30 years have been significant in the history of the city. The advocacy for green spaces, street trees, and gardening under Mike Capuano’s and Joe Curtatone’s terms as progressive mayors who actively encouraged the development of public green spaces and private gardens, has been a glorious period of renewal. Their advocacy of gardening contests and awards and their hiring of a city Senior Planner/Landscape Developer to help implement green plans and acquire new green areas have been tremendously revitalizing throughout the city.
All of these changes—including the development of the West and Main Branches of the Library—are as valuable a part of Somerville’s history as are the historical monuments and homes. These sites deserve preservation, and not an opportunistic “update” of a site which is a monument to the best changes brought about during the past years of Somerville history. The West Branch Library building was designed by McLean and Wright of Boston, and was built in 1906–09 with funding from philanthropist Andrew Carnegie and the city. It is the city’s best example of Classical Revival architecture, also exhibiting Beaux Arts details that were then in fashion. It was the first branch library in Somerville .
Second: the projected concrete plaza area would not be low maintenance, as claimed, but would, rather, be much higher maintenance than the gardens have been. There are mulberry trees on adjacent lots that would cause considerable mess. And most of the garden maintenance is done by SGC members, aside from occasional mowing.
Third: the projected plaza would be redundant, since there is already a nicely paved plaza area across the street from the Rite Aid on Highland Ave.
Fourth: the tax burden ($6–8 million) would be substantial, especially at a time when the Green Line Extension and Somerville High School projects are placing additional tax stress on residents.
Fifth: the addition of a meeting/performance space intended to accommodate a hundred people would mean that dozens of people at once would need parking in the Davis Square area. Yes, the Red Line is right there, but many people don’t use the T and/or would be coming from other directions. Traffic and parking problems are already severe in the Davis area—we don’t need more.
Members of the Somerville and Davis Square communities in general and the library property abutters in particular are all opposed to the current design. All parties are in favor of renovations to the existing building—and would be happy to see additional funding granted to upgrade the library’s services. But we oppose any other alterations, except insofar as are needed to make the existing building ADA compliant.
We do appreciate the need for more meeting and performance space in Somerville. But the proposed addition wouldn’t even be good for these, since they would be squeezed into a site not fit for the purpose. Further cramming of the small library lot, increased parking demand, and a considerable tax burden on the residents of Somerville (just at the time when we’re about to be whacked with Green Line and High School project expenses)—all for a project of dubious value that the people don’t really want—all seem like a no-go.
The City Aldermen have received a great many emails and phone calls on this subject, and a community meeting has been scheduled for:
Wednesday June 1, 2016 @ 7:00 pm
TAB Building – 169 Holland Street. Second Floor
This meeting will review and discuss the renovation and scope of library program services in the historic structure. There will be discussion of the community’s preferred landscape alternative. The meeting will discuss the scale and viability of the proposed community room addition. The ultimate objective is a project that meets the goals outlined by the community and garners the support of direct project abutters.
Additionally, people who are interested in this issue should:
1. Make sure they’re on Steve Vitello’s (the Project Manager’s) email list (by calling or emailing him at email@example.com 617-625-6600 x5124).
2. Join the Facebook page created by Janet Campbell on this issue. (https://www.facebook.com/groups/120522718357131/
3. Join the Google Group moderated by Ulysses Lateiner and Janet Campbell. (https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/somerville-west-branch-library-renovation
We’ll make sure you’re up to date on what’s going on!