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Library's trustees oppose UMF design

Post Time:Jul 29,2009Classify:Industry NewsView:290

FARMINGTON -- The Board of Trustees of the Farmington Public Library has come out in opposition to the high-ceilinged glass, metal and wood lobby proposed by the University of Maine at Farmington for its new arts center.
The lobby of the Emery Community Arts Center would be built 15 feet from the library's entrance.

The trustees issued their statement just as UMF is gearing up a public relations effort to bring the plans directly to the community. Several information sessions have been scheduled and people can view the plans, see a three-dimensional model of the 14,000-square-foot facility and discuss it with members of the building committee.

"Upon reviewing all information available and the public presentations and representations of the University, (the Trustees) have concluded that the current plan for the northeast quadrant will do irreparable harm to the integrity of the library building envelope and structure and to library functions," according to the statement.

A statement from the UMF public relations department issued Monday says that campus officials will ask for a meeting with the library's trustees to hear their concerns.

The Farmington Planning Board has been evaluating UMF's site review, soil erosion and stormwater management applications and has set a public hearing for 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 10, at the Farmington Municipal Building at 153 Farmington Falls Road. The board may vote on the project that night.

The two-story, 65-by-40-foot, glass-faced lobby would extend out from the Greek Revival-style façade of 1930s Alumni Theater and would serve as an indoor courtyard and exhibit area. It would be lit from inside so people can look through the glass from Academy Street and see the restored façade, according to architect Scott Slarsky of designLAB Architects of Boston.

The arts center itself would be constructed to the side of Alumni Theater and would house a 100-seat, flexible staging performance space, multi-purpose rooms, a digital sound studio and art gallery that would be used by UMF as well as the community. The lobby project would eliminate the existing small parking lot in front of Merrill Hall but other parking is available, UMF officials have said.

The library trustees are concerned about the fragility of the library building's granite foundation that has an existing drainage problem.

According to UMF, their stormwater drainage system would improve the library's problem by directing underground and surface water away toward Academy Street.

But at the planning board's site review on July 13, Library Director Melanie Coombs and others said construction and the vibrations from heavy equipment so close to the old granite building could damage the foundation.

Another concern is the lobby's high, wood-paneled east wall that would block the view toward Merrill Hall and disrupt the flow of foot traffic.

"Farmington Public Library exists to serve the community. Changes in ambience, accessibility, foot traffic and parking will be detrimental to the service the library provides," according to the trustees' statement.

On Monday, Coombs said the lobby project would make a significant difference in the access people have to the library.

"We are essentially a business and our business is to serve the community," she said. "The lobby will change the pattern of foot traffic and people's access. If you damage the way we do our business, we cannot do our job."

In the trustees' statement, they said the library is following a national trend and is busier than ever. It had 27,000 visits in 2008 and year-to-date, nearly 29,000 items have been circulated.

According to a July 2 letter from the director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, requested by the Planning Board, Earle Shettleworth Jr. said the design of the art center's lobby "would fundamentally alter the historic character of (Alumni Theater) and its distinctive features."

"Such an addition would dramatically change the way in which one experiences the front of this building, effectively relegating it to a backdrop within a glass case," he stated.

The Historic Commission's opinion is not binding but under Farmington's site review ordinance, the Planning Board can request an assessment. The project falls just outside the town's historic district zone but it is within the Commission's unofficial historic district.

UMF President Theodora Kalikow, speaking at the Planning Board meeting earlier this month, defended the design, saying the use of glass enclosures to preserve historic buildings is a common architectural conservation practice.

"If we can build this in a timely fashion, it will benefit the community and will create immediate jobs," she said. "It will be a contribution to our town and to the university."

Following is UMF's information session schedule:

* 2 p.m. Wednesday, July 29, president's conference room, UMF Merrill Hall.

* 3 p.m. Wednesday, July 29, the Planning Board will view the project's site. The tour is open to the public and starts in front of Alumni Theater on Academy Street.

* 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 31, conference room, UMF Ferro Alumni Center, Main Street.

* 7 p.m. Wednesday, August 5, conference room, UMF Ferro Alumni Center.

Source: morningsentinel.mainetoday.coAuthor: shangyi

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