Wilton and New Ipswich libraries apply for grants to create community centers

  • New Ipswich Library Director Michelle Pelletier stands outside the entrance to the School Yard, where she hopes to eventually host a community center through a State Library Grant. Staff photoS by Ashley Saari

  • New Ipswich Library Director Michelle Pelletier stands outside the entrance to the School Yard, where she hopes to eventually host a community center through a State Library Grant. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

  • New Ipswich Library Director Michelle Pelletier stands outside the entrance to the School Yard, where she hopes to eventually host a community center through a State Library Grant. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

  • Wilton Library Director Pat Fickett stands in front of the church she hopes to be able to use as a community space. Staff photo by Ashley Saari

  • Wilton Library Director Pat Fickett stands in front of the church she hopes to be able to use as a community space.

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 11/19/2021 9:12:00 AM

The New Ipswich Library and Wilton Public and Gregg Free Library are both pursuing grants to establish community centers with new programming and space for local organizations.

The New Hampshire State Library has received $2,297,692 as part of the American Rescue Plan Act, which can be disbursed to municipal libraries across the state through grants. The funds can be used to help communities respond to the pandemic or to address economic and community needs.

The needs in Wilton and New Ipswich are similar – space.

New Ipswich Library

The New Ipswich Library hopes to partner with the New Ipswich Recreation Department in creating a community center space in the basement of the School Yard, a former elementary school converted to commercial space in downtown New Ipswich. Located smack between the library and Memorial Field, with a currently unoccupied basement space, it’s situated to be an indoor programming space for both departments.

Library Director Michelle Pelletier said the idea first came about when the library had to make some decisions about capacity limits during COVID-19. A review of the building showed the building’s entire capacity to be 26 people.

“That was a problem, because even during story time, we could get up to 30,” Pelletier said. “That triggered us to think about things differently. In the summer, we can be outside, but as the winter comes, we need a new place to go.”

When Pelletier heard about the possibility of receiving ARPA funding through a competitive grant process, she realized it was an opportunity not only to find new space for the library, but to grow that idea into a fully functioning community space.

Pelletier has applied for a $30,000 grant, to cover set up and operational costs from January to July of 2022, at which point, the grant funding ends.

But, Pelletier said, while the library typically has monthly events and would use the space periodically, she knew it would require more use to be viable and self-sustaining. She reached out to New Ipswich Parks and Recreation Director Shawna Kutyla to see if the town was interested in a partnership.

It was something that she had already had on her mind, Kutyla said.

“I had already been working on that concept,” Kutyla said. “It made sense to do it together.”

Unlike the library, Kutyla said the Parks and Recreation Department doesn’t have any indoor space besides some storage. In the winter, outdoor activities all but shut down.

“We don’t have any space to hold programs for our community. Just to have that space for community members, from our youngest to our seniors, it’s going to be great,” Kutyla said.

Pelletier and Kutyla have created a list of possible uses for the space, including a regular after-school program for children, vacation camps and snow day care, teen nights and a senior coffee hour, as well as other community programs. Some would be run by volunteers, and others, such as the after-school care, would be run by an employee shared between the library and Recreation Department.

“This will allow us to expand on our programs, as well as offer new programs,” Kutyla said.

Sara Laurent of New Ipswich, who is interested in using the community space to start a homeschool cooperative, said she would be thrilled to have a community center in town.

Recently moved to the area from Manchester, Laurent said her first thought was to find a way to integrate her children into the community, but found there were few options for local collaboration among homeschool students in the district. She has been working to start one, meeting out of local parent’s homes. A central location like a community center would be ideal, she said, not only as a home for a homeschool cooperative, but just as a community gathering space.

“You can’t put a value on an open and available community space,” Laurent said. “A place for a regular teen meetup, somewhere that is safe and they can get together and hang out. And for seniors. With COVID, we have seen what they’ve been through. A location for senior community members to gather would be life-giving. The possibilities are almost endless.”

Wilton Public and Gregg Free Library

Pat Fickett, director of the Wilton Public and Gregg Free Library, said when she began to investigate possible community needs, she heard one thing over and over again.

“Group after group talked about the need for community space,” Fickett said.

The Second Congregational Church in Wilton has offered to provide rental space for community programming during the week. The space would be run by a library employee.

Fickett plans to apply for $20,000 to $30,000 to operate the community space from January to July.

Fickett said the grant gives the town an opportunity to test the waters, and see if a community center could really work and sustain itself. But she said there has been an enormous amount of community interest.

The Wilton Community Center, Conservation Commission, Main Street Association, Andy’s Summer Playhouse, Wilton Stormwater Management Team and the Wilton Heritage Commission have all expressed interest in using the space, Fickett said.

“There are already 244 separate events proposed,” Fickett said.

The library itself has a list of potential programs it would run out of the space, including a monthly teen activity, a children’s science club, jam nights and an open mic night, along with book discussions.

The Wilton Community Center has proposed using the space for adult education programs, potlucks and exercise classes such as yoga or Zumba and regular folk dance events.

What’s next?

Grant applications for both New Ipswich and Wilton were due by Oct. 1, and grants will be awarded in December.

The grant would cover operations for the first seven months of the program, but both Pelletier and Fickett said they hope to establish a working model that long outlasts that initial grant.

“We want this to be something that last forever,” Pelletier said.

In the New Ipswich model, Pelletier and Kutyla said the ultimate goal is for the community center to be self-sustaining. Fees for programs such as the after-school care would pay for the employees to operate the program, as well as keeping the rent paid and lights on.

The New Ipswich Library has an endowment, which could also help support the center while it establishes itself, and depending upon how successful the center is in supporting itself, would consider a warrant article asking for support in 2023.

In Wilton, Fickett has approached the Select Board about creating a budget for the community center, to at least allow them to complete an entire year of programming, after the grant support runs out in July.

Both library heads said that with or without grant support, this is an idea they wish to pursue.

“It would delay it,” Fickett said, of what the future of a community space would be without ARPA funding. “We would have to do much more fundraising, and we would have to see how much the town would be willing to support. But even if we don’t get the grant, I think the concept will remain, and be something we would continue to work toward.”

The New Ipswich Select Board is scheduled to discuss the concept of the New Ipswich Recreation Department partnering with the library on the community center. Pelletier said the success of the concept of a community center relies on that partnership, as the Recreation Department is anticipated to use the space more often.

If the grants are approved, both communities anticipate being able to begin offering programming as soon as January.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 244, or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.


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