Groundbreaking for construction of the Island's newest and largest library may begin sometime in October if bids - set to be opened less than a month from now - fall within the $3.2 million budget.
The roughly 15,000 square foot library will rise up behind town hall on Pacific avenue in Oak Bluffs, replacing the tiny quarters on Pennacook avenue.
The lead architect for the project is not expecting a case of sticker shock at the bid opening the day after Labor Day, but she's also not counting on a recessionary climate to translate into bargains from contractors.
"We feel pretty good about it. Generally, it's been competitive," said architect Stephanie Mashek of the Boston firm Amsler, Woodhouse and MacLean. "The economy is not great but things still cost money, and it doesn't mean you can get buildings at a discount."
So far, almost 60 contractors and sub-contractors have requested the paperwork with building specifications.
Total project cost budgeted for the new library is $3.8 million, which includes architectural fees. A state grant of $1.56 million will offset the amount of money that taxpayers agreed to shoulder at the annual town meeting last year. The town is seventh in line to receive the state fund which could come as soon as July of 2004, the start of the next fiscal year.
That leaves $2.3 million in the Oak Bluffs column, but a library fund-raising committee has already launched a campaign to raise $800,000 in private funds and leave the town with only $1.5 million of debt for the project.
"It's ambitious," said Karen Achille, chairman of the library building committee. She pointed out that the figure is significantly more than what Vineyard Haven and Chilmark raised in their drive for donations to help pay for new construction.
The Vineyard Haven expansion project, completed three years ago, raised more than $500,000 from private donors.
Mrs. Achille said the committee has hired a consultant from Andover to help them generate the sizeable sum. The consultant's fee is being paid by Peter Martell, the downtown businessman and volunteer fireman who owns a hotel and two bars.
"This is an investment in the people of our town," said Mrs. Achille.
The library committee is also sponsoring a series of monthly events, starting with a classical music concert this Sunday at the Trinity Episcopal Church next to the Oak Bluffs police station.
Voters threw their support behind the project last year. Not one resident at the town meeting expressed any dissent.
One reason for the solid backing could be the limitations of the current site, a former grocery store transformed into a library in 1930. The building is only 2,407 square feet with no room for expansion of the collection and limited handicapped accessibility.
Despite the physical constraints, circulation has almost tripled since 1995. Last year, just over 62,000 items were circulated from the little library.
A new library would create space for almost three times the number of volumes, bringing the collection to more than 40,000 books. The added cost of more books and potentially more staff has not been factored into the $3.8 million project cost.
This year's budget to operate the library is $209,000. Two years ago, selectmen questioned the costs of the capital project and the impact of added operating expenses to the town budget.
But there's no stopping at this juncture; voters have already committed to building a new library that will bring them more computers and more meeting space for children's programs and foreign language classes.
In the design process, planners quickly scrapped the idea of creating a building that borrowed from the gingerbread cottage theme. "We decided it should have more of a public presence and fit into the immediate context," said Ms. Mashek.
While the planned library is larger than the town hall, it is closer in size to the old school building now owned by the archdiocese.
Mrs. Achille acknowledged that some residents are sorry to see the library leave its spot on Pennacook.
"There are many people who are very saddened, but this new site is the exact geographic center of town and only a third of a mile from the present location," she said. "People have said it's a cute neighborhood library, but cute no longer serves the community."
The new Oak Bluffs library will dwarf the others on the Island. The expanded Chilmark library is 9,000 square feet. Vineyard Haven has a 7,200 square foot library, and West Tisbury is 4,800 square feet.