A major expansion of the Haverhill Public Library 25 years ago was made possible thanks to creative financing that saw the city buy a condominium atop what is actually a privately owned building.
Now, the nearly 9,000-square-foot, third-floor space is for sale…sort of. To comply with state bid law, Haverhill is seeking proposals to purchase the floor that currently houses Special Collections. In all likelihood, the library trustees will take possession.
“Obviously, we’re very interested in it,” library Director Sarah Moser told WHAV.
In 1997, then-Mayor James A. Rurak shepherded the city’s $1.2 million purchase of the top floor condo after private donations fell short. As mayor, Rurak also served as the non-voting chairman of the library trustees. He is now a is now a voting trustee and wants to finish what he started.
For more than 20 years, Deborah Y. Coletti has served as a library trustee. Earlier, though, she helped raise $3 million of the $5 million needed to enlarge the building from 30,500 to 44,000 square feet. A state $800,000 grant to help finish the project, however, came with a condition the city kick in money.
The requirement is more complicated than it first appears since, unlike most public libraries, Haverhill’s building has always been privately owned. It’s an unusual private-public partnership proposed in 1873 by philanthropist Ezekiel James Madison Hale. Hale donated the land and half of the money necessary to build and furnish the original library on the condition residents paid the balance and the city maintains the building and pays the staff.
Rurak noted state library grants don’t take into account Haverhill’s unusual ownership situation. “The city would have been obligated to contribute something, but not that amount. That amount was to pay down the mortgage that was taken out for the building loan,” he said.
Coletti said Trustee Richard J. Sheehan, now vice chairman, is mostly responsible for the condominium concept that resolved the money shortfall. Over the years, she said, the library helped pay for the city’s borrowing.
“Everybody was really pleased with the way it worked out and we got our grant from the state,” she said.
Coletti said the end result is “an amazing library that the city gets at a fraction of the cost.” Looking ahead to changes in the way residents use the library and evolving services, such as computers, she added the trustees need flexibility.
“It’s been 25 years. We need to buy back the condo. Then, we own the whole building and we can move forward with whatever expansion program we want,” she said.
While others may submit bids to buy the library’s third floor condo, any future buyer must commit to use the space “in a manner that is consistent with the operation and function of a public library.” Proposals are due by July 1.