Officials reconsider sale of Old Southworth Library

By Angie Hilsman | Jul 15, 2017
Photo by: Angie Hilsman Town Administrator David Cressman considers the work that needs to be done.

Aiming to avoid a mold-ridden, asbestos-overloaded, health-hazard fate similar to that of the Gidley School, town officials are working to find a resident for the Old Southworth Library.

Officials met at the historic building’s 404 Elm Street location on July 14 to both tour the building and discuss its fate.

The seven-member Old Southworth Library Committee concluded that — despite the building’s charming vine-covered facade, arched doorways, brick fireplace, and stained glass windows — it needs about $280,000 in repairs and maintenance.

"I don't think anyone wants this building to go the way Gidley did," said Town Administrator David Cressman, referring to the recent $785,000 demolition of Gidley School. The Tucker Road building had been shuttered since 2007, and contained asbestos and mold issues.

Among the updates needed at the Old Southworth Library are a $14,000 roof repair, and a $175,000 handicap-accessible entry. Inside, the floor vents pose a liability, the library's original shelving still lines two rooms, some of the attic floorboards are loose and rickety, the basement is damp, and there is a broken light hanging in the center room. Committee members also questioned the use of asbestos on the basement ceiling, despite the building passing a hazardous material inspection.

"From an architectural viewpoint, it's a wonderful structure. In terms of the bones, it's in wonderful shape. It's everything else that's the issue," said Cressman.

Committee members agreed finding an occupant for the building is crucial to preserving it. The building has been vacant since last summer, when Dartmouth Natural Resources Trust moved off of Elm Street and into its current Chase Road location. DNRT had rented the space since 1986.

In June 2016, Town Meeting members voted not to sell the building, despite recommendations from both the Select Board and Finance Committee to do so.

No town departments have approached Cressman about taking over the space, he said. However, three private parties have shown interest in buying the building, he added.

Officials are looking to again pitch the idea of selling the building at upcoming October Town Meeting. If voters again reject the idea, Cressman said the town will have to pull from capital improvement funds to maintain the building, which also means pulling funding from other projects.

Committee members agreed that a sale was best, but had different ideas on who the best occupant would be.

"The value in this building is as a single family residence," said Linda Hopps, of Hopps Realty Group and representing the the Padanaram Business Association, during the tour. "No one is going to want to buy it if they have to do all these updates."

She said that contingencies could be placed on the sale that would prohibit buyers from changing the facade or historical nature of the building.

"It would be ideal to keep this open to the public in some way," said Health Board member and former DNRT Executive Director Leslie McKinley. "This building has such a historic and sentimental value to the town."

The library was built in 1889. Plumbing was installed in 1921.

Committee members are asking that parties interested in buying or renting the property talk to any of the committee members. Cressman can be reached at cressmandg@town.dartmouth.ma.us, or (508) 910-1813.

The new committee first met on July 7. Its members include Cressman, Hopps, McKinley, Director of Development Deborah Melino-Wender, Finance Committee member Roochi Chopra, Historical Commission member Bradford Thelin, and Dartmouth High Alumni Association President Enid Silva.

(Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
(Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
(Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
(Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
(Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
(Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
(Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
(Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
(Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
(Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
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