Valley News – Cornish plans to install water and septic systems at Stowell Library

Library volunteer Caroline Storrs, right, waves to Michael Edward of Cornish (not pictured) as his wife, Lauren, and son, Leo, 1, leave the George H. Stowell Free Library on Wednesday, June 16, 2021. The town has discussed adding running water, a septic tank and a handicap-accessible entrance to the building in recent years, and Cornish resident Colleen O'Neill has offered to donate the vacant general store she owns for use as the town library. (Valley News – James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to [email protected].
James M. Patterson

CORNISH – The historic Stowell Library, which many residents hope will continue to be used as a library, could receive a well and a septic tank.

In a brief 15-minute meeting Monday, Selectboard members Jason Bourne and Dillon Gallagher announced that the town would post the projects on its website and also contact a number of area companies that install wells and septic systems to solicit bids. (Board member John Hammond was absent.)

Alicia Simino, a member of the group Save the Stowell, said the decision by the Selectboard and library administration is a good step forward for the 110-year-old library. The group opposes moving the library to a former general store, a move residents approved by referendum at the 2023 Town Meeting.

“There are still people who believe in historic preservation,” Simino said. “Many people in town want the library repaired.”

There are many historic buildings in Cornwall, Simino said, and the Stowell is the “most beautiful of them.”

“Our source of income is the beauty of Cornwall and our historic buildings,” said Simino. “We need to hold on to our heritage.”

The lack of indoor plumbing and accessibility issues in Stowell were the main reasons why a slim majority of voters approved a donation of the former Cornish General Store to be converted into a library and community center. The existing library and store are just a stone's throw from each other on Route 120.

The 2023 City Council resolution calls for $2.4 million to be raised for renovations over five years, with no financial obligation on the part of the city.

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The Cornish Community Initiative, a nonprofit leading the store's conversion into a library, has a total of $1.13 million in donations and pledges, Colleen O'Neill, who donated the former store to the city, said in an email Tuesday.

The Selectboard's decision on Monday came about two weeks after the library trustees and the board met in a joint session.

At that June 18 meeting, trustees voted 2-1 to work with the Selectboard to solicit bids using Local Resource Recovery Funds, a COVID relief program. Trustees Kathi Patterson and Marie De Rusha voted yes and Laura Cousineau opposed. Cousineau was not present at Monday's meeting.

According to minutes from the June 18 meeting, the city has between $80,000 and $90,000 left from its reconstruction funds. To use the money, the city needs a signed contract by Dec. 31 and then must spend the money by the end of 2026.

Patterson said she has compiled a list of companies in the area that do this type of work and are certified by the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services. The septic tank design is not yet finished, so the Selectboard decided to set a deadline for receiving bids of two weeks after receiving the finished design.

At the 2022 town meeting, voters approved spending $7,200 to purchase a small parcel of land to be attached to the library, Simino noted. The money came from donations the trustees received, except for $700 that came from the town's unallocated fund balance. Although the intended use of the property was not included in the motion, town meeting minutes state that Selectboard member Lyle Parry said, “The land would be used for a septic tank and a well.”

Community members have not yet figured out how best to solve the old library's accessibility problem. A ramp at the front of the building is out of the question because of the height of the steps to the entrance, Simino said Tuesday. One possibility would be to connect the library to the small city building next door to create a more accessible entrance. The city has applied to have the Stowell placed on the National Historic Register, which would make it eligible for state and federal preservation grants, Simino said.

Patrick O'Grady can be reached at [email protected].

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