April 20, 2006

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Nashua Publisher's Note: Hunting white elephants
By Jeff Rapsis

If the city of Nashua’s Great Budget Crunch of 2006 has had one positive result, it’s gotten people to pay attention to what local government can do better.

Yes, Mayor Bernie Streeter’s demand for a 5 percent cut has spurred some bonehead ideas, such as selling the city-owned building that houses the Court Street Theater just to save a few bucks on maintenance costs.

But the push for efficiency has also prompted some city departments to take needed steps that otherwise would have been difficult. One example is the city’s Chandler Library, which will close at the end of June as the library department copes with the squeeze.

Though it’s sad to see it shut down, the Chandler branch clearly fits into the category of “white elephant.” Closing it, and eventually selling the property and using the proceeds to expand elsewhere, will allow the city’s library system to better deploy its assets over the long term.

It was a tough step to take, not only because it meant cutting services for some patrons, but also because of the Chandler’s history. The building, a grand old-style home at 257 Main St., was generously donated to the library system in the late 1950s by benefactor Mabel Chandler.

It was dedicated as a much-needed branch library in 1960, when the city’s main library was still housed in the stately but cramped Hunt Memorial Building at 6 Main St. But when the new Court Street building opened in 1970, the Chandler ceased to be essential.

Over the years, plans about how to use the building came and went, but nothing ever stuck. Most recently, it was to function as a genealogy research center, but the funds never materialized, leaving it in limbo.

Trustees were already studying the Chandler’s fate, but the budget crunch provided the motivation to go forward. And though it’s unfortunate, the end result will most likely be good for Nashua in the long run.

Why? Because a good library system is a big economic development asset for any community. Nashua’s system, even as it plans to cut back hours and take other belt-tightening steps, is among the best for cities of its size.

But the Chandler, with its residential layout and lack of parking, just wasn’t a useful part of the equation anymore. Without any lack of appreciation for Mabel Chandler’s generosity, it had become a white elephant. Better to close it, sell the property, and use the proceeds to improve library services in other ways.

Another side effect of the budget crunch: Nashuans are getting involved in causes they feel are worth it, and that includes the library. A support group, the Friends of the Nashua Public Library, recently sprang up and is raising money to help keep programs going.

Their first fundraiser, a book sale, is this Saturday at the library. I plan to buy a few books, and also bring some to donate to the cause. If you appreciate the library, why not join in and lend your support?

Lend your support? Well, I almost got through this without any bad library puns.


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