Working to Design a New Barrington Public Library

The Backstory 2000–2020

In 1973 the Barrington Public Library along with the Barrington Elementary School Library moved from the school to space provided in the Barrington Town Hall at 105 Ramsdell Lane. This space, occupied by Town Administrative personnel, was also occupied by the Barrington Police. In 2000 the entirety of the 3760 square feet, including the “old community room” was given to the BPL.

As the Library Staff and Trustees emerged from the cramped shared space, it was readily recognized that the available space was inadequate to serve a growing Barrington. Also widely recognized within the public library community was the notion that town libraries were becoming far more than a building of quietness from which books were loaned.

In an earlier chapter, the ongoing evolution of the role of the public library in this community was presented. This role and the space required for its development in individual communities began to be explored by the Library Trustees in the early 2000s with a flurry of activities that included:

  1. In 2004 a Library Building Consultant, Patience Jackson from Maynard, MA, was hired to assess the needs of the town of Barrington for a public library. She issued a 62 page final report in 2006 (Planning for the Future: A Library Building Program). Among her findings were (paraphrased):
    • The Butler building housing the BPL is unattractive and uninviting with its opening facing neither route 9 nor Ramsdell Lane.
    • ADA compliance is an issue: the entrance, while wide enough to admit a wheelchair, has doors too heavy for a wheelchair-bound person to open; shelving aisles are too narrow, some with dead ends, top and bottom shelving in the stacks is inaccessible for young and old; and the restroom hallway is too narrow.
    • The “library is full” (2006) with inadequate space to hold requisite materials, to accommodate quiet study space for individuals or small groups, and inadequate to accommodate programming activities for a modern library to serve a community of 8,173 let alone for projected growth of ~10,000 by 2020.
  2. David Provan, of RIGHT ROAD CONSULTING, was hired to guide the Trustees through the process of forming a Building Team and related committees. Using a multi-step process, more than 40 citizens from all walks of life and professions in Barrington were recruited to sit on five committees which functioned 2007–2011:
    • Building
    • Feasibility
    • Design
    • Finance
    • Communications
  3. Trustees heard from Green Building specialists from the Jordan Institute.
  4. Ten building sites were considered and studied with input from 4 local engineers who performed various services gratis in evaluating sites for their availability / suitability for a building and functionality.
  5. Groups of volunteers including library staff, trustees and interested citizens of Barrington visited over 25 libraries in NH, ME, & MA carrying cameras, questionnaires, and sketch pads. They interviewed library directors, staff, trustees, patrons, architects, and construction managers to develop a comprehensive picture of what worked and what didn’t in libraries comparable in size and demographics to Barrington.
  6. Public Engagement:
    • Questionnaires were developed for library patrons as well as the general public,
    • Informational brochures distributed,
    • newspaper articles dealing with library issues were put out,
    • community input meetings were held to keep the public informed of the library’s needs and plans
  7. In 2009 the Trustees put out an RFP/Q which resulted in proposals from 34 New England architectural firms. After examining their credentials and portfolios in detail, the Building Team narrowed the field and invited six firms to come to Barrington to be interviewed. Using detailed guidelines provided by David Provan, the Trustees chose SMP Architects as the best firm to bring the project to fulfillment. Progress slowed significantly with the 2008 ff recession.


The year 2012 saw the Trustees further re-engaging the project to build a new town library with the significant decisions being:

  • to form a non-profit foundation and
  • enlist the help of a professional fund-raiser.

The Barrington Library Foundation was inaugurated on June 14, 2016, having secured its non- profit status [501(c)(3)] designation from the state of New Hampshire. Traci Bisson was its first president with Sam Boduch, Trudi Googins, Dan Capiello and Kris Pavlik playing key supporting roles.

Sandi Michell from York, ME was hired as a professional fund-raising consultant. She had most recently successfully led public library fund-raising for Kittery, ME and Durham, NH. Ms. Mitchell set $500,000 as the fund-raising goal based on her analysis of the community of Barrington and exploratory conversations with select members of the community. That goal was met in the form of cash in the bank, pledges, gifts-in-kind, and grants. To accomplish this task, the Foundation recruited an additional workforce of about 20 individuals called the Campaign Leadership Council, chaired by Marie Harris. This group worked together with the Trustees and the Friends of the Library.

Background and Rationale for Designs 1 & 2 – Warrant Article 3, March 2019 & 20 as well as the anticipated 2024 Warrant

As just noted, the Library Trustees and SMP Architects had accumulated a considerable trove of information about what kind of library a town the size of Barrington should have. Clearly recognizing that they had a fiduciary responsibility to the citizens of Barrington (a responsibility to decide on an attractive, durable, highly functional, and cost-acceptable design), the team (Library Trustees, Staff, Foundation and Friends) re-engaged after the 2008 recession and assembled and reviewed the focused endeavors by over 100 Barrington citizens from the previous decade.

In addition, a large database collected annually from over 220 NH town libraries by the NH State Library and maintained by on an Excel Spreadsheet website (, provides 213 comparative data points on 9 different library features (from town size, library building size, staffing, circulation profiles, etc.). These data allowed the design team to compare their evolving consensus to what numerous other NH communities with their respective design teams (not to mention town administrations and voting citizens) had decided their town residents required for a 21st century town library resource. That is, this database serves as a reference standard of sorts, a broad brushstroke, for what the citizens of the state of NH expect its towns to provide their citizens in the way of a town library as an integral part of the town’s social infrastructure.

Evaluating, filtering, assigning relative value, in depth discussions with numerous groups of Barrington residents resulted in the Trustees and SMP coming to a consensus design for a new “Barrington Public Library and Community Center”. The Warrant Article 3 of March 2019 was brought to the voters with a 4-0 recommendation from both the Select Board and the ABC. The Warrant was for:

  • 13,120 square feet building (1.38 SF per capita)
  • Costing $4,424,876 minus the Foundation contribution of $432,235 or $3,992,641
  • With a tax impact of $105 for a $300,000 property
  • Approximately 30% of eligible voters cast 1170 YES ballots and 1022 NO votes, or 53.8% in support of the warrant, failing to achieve the required 60%.

A second Warrant Article 3 was advanced in March 2020 with 3-0 support from the Select Board but only 3-2 support from the ABC. This vote was taken as the COVID pandemic was exploding across the world causing the world oil market to crash in the week prior to the vote.

  • 13,120 square feet building
  • Costing $4,239,877 minus the Foundation contribution of $241,000 or $3,998,877 (with 7% increase in building costs)
  • $93 per $300,000 property value
  • 31.73% of eligible voters cast 1144 YES and 1164 NO, or 49.5% in support of the warrant, failing to achieve the required 60%.

Where did the 13,120 SF size come from; what was the rationale / justification?

  • Patience Jackson, in her Needs Assessment report for Barrington, made her recommendations based on the Wisconsin Library Standards ( Those standards indicate a town library size should be proportional to the size of the town at about 1.5 – 2.5 SF per capita. She incorporates a 20-year horizon into her calculation. That resulted in a recommendation of 15 – 17,000 SF, obviously leaning to the low side of the range recommended.
  • If one uses the NH library database (see above) and compares the library size of 7 NH towns similar in size, our BPL is about 1/3 the size of those in this comparator group (2021 data).
Library TownLibrary size Sq FtPopulationLibrary Sq Ft/capita
Average minus Barr.11,12889071.16
217 NH PLs Av65921.4

The same type of analysis can be done to compare the size of 7 towns with town libraries the size of Barrington’s (average SF 3695 vs 3740) to determine what their populations are: the 7-town population average is 2557 vs our ~9500. The towns are Lisbon, Marlborough, Chester, Jackson, New Hampton, Northwood, and Lyme.

All analytics as well as a nationally recognized standard from the Wisconsin Library Standards point to a minimum of 1.5 SF per capita. Of note, all states in the US have public library standards except New Hampshire, Arizona, and Wyoming. Using the low end of the standard and the 2021 population of Barrington, our town library should be at least 13,900 SF in size.