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Light shed upon EGHS library plans

March 31, 2011

Move made to meet accreditation

An architectural consultant to the School Building Committee did more than shed a little light Tuesday night on plans to renovate the East Greenwich High School library.
His proposal for the library includes shedding much more light on it, namely by taking down one of its cinderblock walls and replacing it with a window to lend a more airy feel to a library some school officials have compared to a dungeon.

With the School Committee and Town Council having committed to repairs to school roofs, and extensive flooring and climate control work being recommended for Meadowbrook Farms School, the building panel and Jonathan Winokur, principal of school bond project management firm SBS, have an estimated $1 million left uncommitted from the $52 million school bond project’s surplus funds.
Edward Frenette, consultant for school architectural firm SMMA, showed board members a slide show of renovations he designed after their meeting two weeks ago, in which they expressed a consensus of keeping the project in the $450,000-$700,000 range.
Frenette said he sought a more effective use of the library’s existing space instead of expanding into a nearby classroom. His plan called for converting the current glassed-off administrative block, which he described as “a space-eater,” into a wedge-shaped checkout desk with an office room behind it, located on the side near the lower floor door.
He also wants to gain space by removing the back stairs that go to the upper floor, and extend cylinder-like like fixtures from the ceiling to improve the lighting. The book shelves would be lowered, with the only tall shelves remaining on the sides.
Frenette estimated those changes could create 25 to 30 percent more useable space in the library.
“My intent was to show you can do a very nice library in this space. It just depends how far you want to go with it,” he said.
The most popular proposal would be the installation of a large window looking out into the courtyard, allowing the afternoon sun to fill the library. With a large wall and stacks currently in that space, a limited amount of sun enters the room. Frenette also offered an optional terraced ampitheater-like area in front of the new window which can be used for outdoor classes or study.
Building Committee Chairman Jay Gowell praised the plan’s space and lighting improvements. “This does a great job turning space into something more useable, flexible and inviting,” he said.
Winokur said the committee would have more options under this proposal. “The natural lighting adds a lot of ambiance, and clearing space out would allow us to do more modest improvements,” he said.
School Committee Chairwoman Deidre Gifford, expressing a desire to keep the renovation cost low, blamed the library’s dingy atmosphere on functional neglect and lack of attention to cleanliness.
“We need to make it look like functional space and take care of it without having to build a million-dollar library,” she said.
School Superintendent Victor Mercurio, a frequent critic of the library’s current substandard technological capacity and lack of availability after school hours, has stressed the library’s importance in the school’s efforts to main accreditation from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. He said the design would answer many of his concerns.
“We want as much flexible learning space as possible, to get the kids in a nice space where they’re doing work and they’re engaged,” he said, adding that a large number of the library’s current reference books can be reduced to much smaller digital devices.
Frenette said the next step would be to develop schematics and offer a la carte options for the renovation, along with their cost.
“If we’ve got $1 million unallocated, what can we get?” asked Winokur, adding that the schematics would take several months to prepare.

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