Friends of the Elderly envisions new life for old library

Sep 16, 2019

The original North Branch Library could be revitalized as a cultural asset for the Council on Aging, if the Friends of the Elderly have their way. 

On September 13, board members of the non-profit which supports the Council on Aging, joined by Council on Aging staff, took a tour of the old one-room building. 

The building, which is presently located behind the current North Branch Library on Tucker Road, is in the path of a proposed road realignment of Tucker Road. 

It has faced an uncertain future since July, when the Board of Library Trustees voted to not move the building off of the soon-to-be active construction site and to a new home at the under-construction library on Cross Road. 

With the Select Board now considering taking action to at least shore up the building and move it slightly out of the path of the wrecking balls, Maria Connor, President of the Friends of the Elderly, has another vision: Move the building to the Council on Aging property, and make use of it once again. 

“This building should be alive again,” Connor said. “That is what we would do if we become involved and it’s feasible, move it right to the same [Council on Aging] premises.” 

As the group first gathered at the library site, board member Wayne Whalley pointed out exterior problems — rot, cracks in the exterior stucco coating, and other issues which need to be addressed to move it. 

The group will still need assessments by experts, however, to know just how involved moving the building will be.  

Inside, however, members noted original wood paneling appeared intact and in good condition. The building’s large fireplace — both from inside and outside — appeared well preserved. Aside from damage in one corner of the ceiling, it appeared fine as well.

“It was just wonderful, and I was picturing in my own mind what it was like back then,” Connor said after the tour. 

“We have a million ideas of what we could use the building for,” added Amy DiPietro, Director of the Council on Aging. “We can bring back a little history, and keep the original library theme going.” 

DiPietro and Connor listed off ideas like intergenerational programming, and involving students at the nearby DeMello Elementary School with readings and other library-themed events as possible uses. 

Friends of the Elderly board members are no strangers to historic building relocations. The current 628 Dartmouth Street Senior Center includes two buildings the Friends of the Elderly moved to the site, and are now in active use for programming and offices. 

As for next steps, the board has not made an official vote on adopting the project. Connor said the board will be discussing it at an upcoming meeting, and plans to have their own experts take a close look at the condition of the building. 

Connor added she also hopes to enlist the help of Greater New Bedford Vocational Technical High School students should the project go forward. Students have helped in past construction projects, she noted.