Kent P&Z hears preliminary discussion of library expansion

KENT — Pre-application information for an addition to the town library was presented to the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) by Kent Memorial Library board members at the regular P&Z meeting on Thursday, April 11.

Preliminary plans envision renovation and expansion of the existing library building to connect with the old firehouse next door.

A brief presentation by Sam Calloway of the Kent Library Association Board of Directors described conceptual ideas for renovation and expansion of the existing historic library building. Calloway is also serving as chairman of the building committee, guiding the project.

This presentation to the P&Z was designed to be informal. The coming weeks will see the roll-out of what will be an extensive community campaign. The P&Z application process for the project will begin at the next P&Z meeting scheduled for Thursday, May 9.

“The library is running out of space and the current facilities need upgrade,” said Calloway.

“Libraries have become more than book repositories,” Calloway noted, describing ways that modern library facilities provide essential services and programs vital to their patrons. Wyeth Associates of Chester, Conn. has been retained to design an expanded modern library.

Architect Leonard Wyeth made the presentation, leading the P&Z through preliminary drawings, beginning with the site as it exists now.

The site is almost flat, but there is a gentle slope, Wyeth said. The original library building dates to 1922 and the firehouse next door was built in the 1950s on the library’s land. The whole site, library and firehouse, is incorporated in the planning.

Under a proposed plan, the library will be connected to the firehouse building, allowing book stacks to be housed on the ground level of the firehouse. The apron in front of the firehouse would be retained, and the library would have a new entrance, further to the south.

With the addition of an elevator, the second floor of the firehouse could offer a large meeting space that might be available to community groups. A new tower would add architectural interest and house the elevator works.

P&Z Chair Wesley Wyrick noted that the firehouse structure is sound.

“We’re keeping all of the old firehouse,” Wyeth said.

Wyrick raised the question of finding adequate parking to augment the on-street spaces.

Wyeth indicated that photovoltaic solar roof panels could be included, and that such panels would not be visible from the street. His firm maintains a deep interest in sustainable design practices.

A fence would be added across the rear of the property to mask the railroad tracks and provide protected outdoor access for patrons’ activities.

Discussion focused on parking and concerns for protecting the area where the annual book sale is set up.

Library Director Sarah Marshall said, “We are committed to the interests of the book sale.

The P&Z supported Tai Kern’s comment that a variance would be needed from the Zoning Board of Appeals and that the town’s Architectural Review Board must be included in the process.

Wyrick added that a special permit will be needed because the firehouse is being converted to library use.

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