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Reimagining libraries means renovating Robbins, rebuilding Fox

How the rear of a renovated Robbins Library might look. How the rear of a renovated Robbins Library might appear. How a rebuilt Fox Branch Library might appear.A rebuilt Fox Branch Library would bring a new look to Cleveland and Mass. Ave.

UPDATED, May 26: The good news is that Arlingtonians are reading more than ever. The even better news is that, to accommodate this increase in library use, the town's two libraries, Robbins and Fox, are slated for renovations.

"Both libraries have incredible usage. More than 1,000 members of the community use it daily, leading to significant wear and tear," Library Trustee Heather Calvin told the Select Board on Monday, May 21.

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Director of Libraries Andrea Nicolay provided the Select Board architectural renditions of the proposed revised floor plans for both libraries. See further plans here >>

Renovations costs are expected to range between $8.3 million to $8.5 million for Robbins, and $6.3 million to $6.9 million for Fox, she said. Estimates for each are for construction cost only. They don’t include other project costs, which are typically 25 percent to 40 percent of the construction cost.

"I'm excited with our progress; program attendance has increased 53 percent over the past year, teen use 41 percent over the past two years and we're fifth in the state in kids' programs, Nicolay said.

She recommends a full renovation to bring Robbins Library up to code. An expansion of the library was completed in 1994 following a capital campaign.

Envisions café-style reading room

"We need to preserve the collections and provide more meeting space, and want to offer a café-style reading room," she said.

Also planned is a glass-enclosed group study space, an enhanced children's area and community room space as well as new restrooms.

"I'm really intrigued with the addition at Robbins," said Select Board member Joseph Curro Jr.

 New, one-story Fox

As to the Fox branch in East Arlington, Nicolay recommends demolishing the current building and rebuilding a new one-story structure with a lower level.

Circulation has doubled over the past five years, and community conference-room use is up 8 percent. The library needs four additional public-meeting spaces, expanded children and teen sections, an elevator to the lower level and new restrooms. There's also a strong interest in more adult space, dedicated library storage space and incorporating public art into the library.

To meet the expected costs, Adam Delmolino, library trustees' chairman, said, "We're pursuing all sources of revenue, including working in partnership with the Massachusetts Library Board of Commissioners, Arlington's capital plan, Friends of Robbins Library and other fund-raising options, as well as the town manager and Board of Selectmen."

Project timeline

The Reimagining Our Libraries Project was initiated in 2015. The following year, Ann Beha Architects, whose work includes the Cambridge Public Library, was selected to complete the study, and library trust funds were allocated accordingly. In 2017, two public input meetings were held, and a townwide survey was circulated.

The study results will be presented at two public meetings held by Nicolay and the architect at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 14, at Robbins; and 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 19, at Fox.

Do you want to attend? Learn more and RSVP here >> 

No date has been determined for when both renovations will start, and it's "too early to tell" which library will be renovated first, said Nicolay. 

These projects will build on a significant history. Since 1807, the library in what was then West Cambridge welcomed the public. In 1835, Ebenezer Learned, a doctor, left $100 in his will to establish a juvenile section. Thus was born the first continuous, free children's library in the nation.

In 1892, a gift from Marcia C. Robbins in memory of her late husband, Eli, placed Robbins where you know it now and gave it its current name. The building held 60,000 books and cost $150,000. The front entrance was fashioned after the Cancelleria Palace in Rome.

In 1988, after years of seeking grants, the town agreed to set aside $3 million for Robbins. A $3.3 million state grant and a community raising $500,000 launched construction. By 1994, a renovated Robbins doubled its original size. These days, the library system welcomes 300,000 visitors a year.


July 17, 2017: OUR LIBRARIES look ahead: Robbins rockin', Fox talkin'


This news summary, by YourArlington freelance writer Susan Gilbert, was published Wednesday, May 23, 2018, and updated May 26, to add a link..

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