by Doug McClure
EAST HARDWICK – The town’s “Little Library” continues to be a key focus for the East Hardwick Neighborhood Organization (EHNO). Virtually every question has been asked about how the disused building can play a role in the village, as well as how to tackle its significant location issues. Now, with another survey completed in May, the organization is investigating moving the building to a more favorable site and transforming the structure into a new library and community center.
While the building itself is extremely small and years of neglect have taken a toll, the tiny lot it sits on is even more problematic. EHNO chair Cheryl Michaels said, “the location and size of its current lot continues to present challenges that will restrict the use of the building.” Michaels said those issues “pretty much explain why the building fell into disrepair and was closed in the first place.”
Access to the Little Library is one big challenge. Currently, the only way to get into the building is to climb a steep flight of stairs. Another problem for people with mobility issues is, “there is no place to drop off a person in front of the library without blocking Main Street and the nearest parking is on Cedar Street, with a steep walk up the hill to the building,” Michaels said.
EHNO has worked with East Hardwick architect Patrick Kane, Michaels reported, and “we’ve found ways to overcome many challenges on that lot, such as lack of septic, a crumbling foundation, and a challenging accessibility plan, but the drop-off and parking issues noted above are still a huge drawback.”
The EHNO recently learned of a small parcel adjacent to the First Congregational Church of East Hardwick which was historically the site of the McFeeter’s Feed Store. That store was sited directly on the railroad so it could accept train deliveries and now sits on the soon-to-be-completed Lamoille Valley Rail Trail (LVRT), which is expected to be a major draw for visitors.
The new lot would offer more flexibility and fewer issues, Michaels said. “Our vision for the library in the new location would be to have about six parking spaces along the driveway facing Steven’s Lane.” She said thought had gone into what possibilities might exist for outdoor seating such as “benches on the lawn, or perhaps a small terrace or porch in front of the building.”
The concept and its proximity to the LVRT go to a core mission of the EHNO, she said, returning the once-thriving village center to its former vibrancy.
“The lot backs up to the rail trail near the location of the old Lamoille Station,” Michaels said. “The EHNO is currently looking at the possibility of developing a small rest stop on that location. It might include a bike rack, picnic table or benches, or a small shelter along with a water spigot and a bulletin board and sign welcoming rail trail users to East Hardwick.”
Michaels said if people want to visit East Hardwick at that point, “they will be in a sort of town center that includes the library, Church, and Grange Hall.” Whether or not the idea is feasible is up to the East Hardwick Fire District and the Congressional Church.
Michaels said the survey showed “overwhelmingly positive” responses from residents about the possible move and using the building as a combined library/community center. Virtually all survey respondents supported the idea of moving the building.
The enthusiasm for this re-imagining of the village library was unexpected, Michaels said. “A surprise indicator of community commitment was that 12 persons expressed an interest in being volunteer librarians,” she noted. The survey responses to having a community space suggested several uses for the space. “The availability of books and videos was the highest-rated usage, small group meetings, small classes, and wi-fi were next.”
One resident in the survey had particularly strong feelings about the possible move. “Safe parking is essential for everyone,” the resident said. “Outside space is always important for all ages. The Church Street location would be a wonderful new birth for our library. Please don’t put this memory in a box and let it die. New birth could benefit everyone.” Another resident added, “The move would help bring East Hardwick more alive.”
A handful of residents worried the structure would cut into the already-limited outdoor space in the village or that moving the historic structure could have unforeseen consequences. Most felt that, even if they wished the structure could remain where it is, a move was the best option.
The East Hardwick Fire District met on Tuesday night to discuss the proposal.
“It’s not ‘move or don’t move,’ but ‘move to this particular lot, or not move’, as there are probably no other locations available,” Michaels said. “Although it is possible, but very unlikely, we would look for a new lot if this doesn’t work out. Will the community come together to make this happen? Not sure yet, it is still up to the church and the fire district.”