The sale of the former Allingtown Community Center at 1 Forest Road has left the borough without a branch of the city’s library system – temporarily it is hoped. The recent purchase by The Acorn Group, headed by developer David Beckerman has left the Louis Piantino Branch of the library without a home.
The Village Improvement Association decided to begin withdrawing from its 40-plus-year-old home when the developer asked for a rental fee the agency could not manage. According to Colleen Bailie, Executive Director of the system, the first order of business is removal of the furnishings, books and other paraphernalia.
“The Library building is closed, offering the public only digital programming and parking lot pick up at this time,” she said. “We are unable to pay for renting this space so the staff have begun packing up collection to move it into storage. The library is preparing to leave no later than Nov. 1. The city and the library board are both committed to keeping a library presence in Allingtown.”
The sale of the building to Acorn has been a somewhat contentious event between the city and VIA. The operating board attempted to purchase the building for $500,000, but its bid was rejected in favor of Acorn’s smaller bid, for two reasons stated by city officials: the VIA could not guarantee securing a mortgage; and though smaller, the sale of the property to a private developer reverts the building onto the tax rolls.
What remains for patrons of the Piantino Library is securing a new location. Some sites are under consideration, but no final determinations have been made. According to Bailie, the search is ongoing.
“The city and the board have both researched potential locations. These locations are being evaluated for possible relocation. Ideally, we would prefer the same amount of space, at least 6500 square feet. As this is an opportunity, we are looking to modernize the new library, to include multiple flexible use spaces and be able accommodate large gatherings, private study spaces, a dedicated teen and children’s area, a technology lab, plenty of parking, and easily accessible to all Allingtown residents,” she said. “We encourage all Allingtown residents to take part in the assessment surveys to let us know what they would like to see in their library facility. These surveys will be sent out to many West Haven residents, on our website and through social media.”
The lack of a facility means the library’s services will be curtailed until such time as a new venue can be secured.
“Access to materials and in person programming have currently been suspended. Currently we are doing parking lot pick-up for residents at Carrigan School in the afternoons, once per week. Residents can call the Main Library to arrange for pickup on Wednesdays. During this transition time, parking lot pickup will continue at Carrigan, virtual programs for Allingtown residents will continue, and when it’s safe to do so, will look for possible temporary venues in Allingtown to host library programs such as the very active book group and story times,” Bailie said..
Much of the talk around a new location has centered around the Blake Building, the former headquarters of the school system, and former Lincoln School. This building, too, is up for sale, and would need an agreement with the new ownership.
“The Blake Building is one of the options being considered, but at the time of this writing, there has been no discussion with the library board and administration on the potential for the space as a library. The library board, administration, and city hall representatives have toured the building and there is potential for it to be a library space,” Bailie said. “However, there are renovations that would need to occur to make this a long-term, viable solution for a library. We look forward to the opportunity to discuss this with the developer in the near future.”
Though there is a possibility a suitable location may not be found, the library official is not ready to make that an option.
“City Council and the library board are committed to finding a viable library space in Allingtown and have made looking for a location a priority. Bookmobile delivery and regularly scheduled service stops can serve to reach some of the Allingtown population during this transition period,” she said.
According to Bailie, the Allingtown library is 10% of the library’s total budget. These costs are predominantly staffing. The loss of parking for the last two years at the front entrance due to the construction has been problematic for patron access. Even with the lack of parking and construction, the Allingtown branch sees about 10% of the total computer users and is 14% of the total book circulation when compared to the other branches.
A book group in Allingtown is an “extremely active group” that meets at the library, the library sees many UNH community groups utilizing its meeting spaces and wifi, and Forrest School and ESUMS have made multiple library trips within the past few years.
“Due to the construction on Route 1 and Forrest Road within the last few years, along with the absence of the parking lot from a year ago, the statistics for usage of the library in recent years are not an accurate portrayal of the 40 years of service prior to the disruptions,” Bailie said.
Despite the loss of space and uncertainty of the future, Bailie said she and her staff are not ready to throw in the towel.
“The library board, administration, and staff sincerely hope that a location is found and decided upon soon for Allingtown. We are grateful to Carrigan School for agreeing to have a presence in Allingtown with Parking lot pickup in the meantime, and will continue to provide programming and assistance to residents in Allingtown while the library is in transition. While we are sad to lose the space we have occupied for 42 years, we hope that where the library ends up will be a modern and spacious area that will meet the needs of Allingtown residents for years to come,” she said.