Library Feasibility Group Backs New $23M Building, Sooner Than Later

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Photo: The feasibility committee voting on Thursday, Feb. 16.

After months of meetings and public comments, the Belmont Library Feasibility Committee unanimously recommended a new building option to replace the existing half-century old structure on Concord Avenue at a meeting of the Belmont Board of Library Trustees on Thursday night, Feb. 16.

“I am very appreciative of all the hard work from the committee,” said Kathleen Keohane, the Chair of the Belmont Board of Library Trustees and a member of the committee.

“We had a diverse group that represented different constituents in the community, and I think it been a very effective team,” she said.

Designed by architect Stewart Roberts, the new building – which would be constructed on the present library site adjacent the Underwood Pool  – is projected to cost $23.4 million if construction began in 2019. According to Library Director and Feasibility member Peter Struzziero, each year delay will cost an additional $900,000 in building costs due to inflation.

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From above: a new library for Belmont.

“We are eager to move forward as quickly as we can and a prudently as possible with the support of the community,” said Keohane.

But according to one member, it might be years before the town can take up the library for funding. 

“I’m gonna be a skunk at the dinner party to some extent because the handwriting is on the wall that this building is not going to move forward in the next few years,” said Committee member Jennifer Fallon.

What will put the brakes on moving quickly on the project is the looming presence of a new Belmont High School project which will require the town to ask taxpayers to pass a debt exclusion of between $100 million to $160 million in the next two years.

Fallon, who represents the financial watchdog Warrant Committee on the Feasibility Committee, added the town has to renovate or construct new structures for the Police and Department of Public Works, each estimated in the $20-$30 million range. The Capital Budget Committee, which manages large municipal purchases and construction projects, is in the midst of prioritizing the building projects. 

What could help move the library forward, said Fallon, is an active attempt at private fundraising to make a significant dent in the $23 million price tags. She also suggested the Trustees apply for state money through the Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program which the town twice previously participated.

(Each time the town sent back millions of dollars of state aid when the Trustees could not obtain public or governmental support for much larger projects.)

And the Board of Trustees has been listening to Fallon’s helpful critique.

“How to fund the project is a fair question, and it has been a concern of the group given the demands of the town,” said Keohane.

“We will be exploring every funding avenue,” said Keohane, noting the trustees will be moving forwards with a capital fundraising program that will target businesses, individual and others. 

One place the Trustees will not be heading is back to the state. Despite the offer of paying for about a third of the construction costs, Struzziero said state aid requires the community to accept the Public Library Construction Program’s size requirements and final cost estimates, both which would likely be much more than the committee’s approved option.

“Our plan was created after discussions with the public with what they said was important to them and the town,” said Struzziero. 

It is now up to the Library Trustees to decide whether to ask the Belmont Board of Selectmen to create a building committee to move the project forward. 

The 12-member committee – co-chaired by Nancy Dignan and Elaine Alligood – endorsed a new 39,000 sq.-ft. building over renovating the current location for $16 million or adding an addition to the existing structure priced at $24.6 million

The approved proposal will provide the square footage to meet all the library programs – a children’s section, space for technology, sitting space, administration offices to name just a few – required by a busy suburban library; Belmont is the fifth most active of the state’s 370 public libraries.

It was also the most efficient in energy usage, meets current parking needs and will be the most cost effective to operate. 

The committee held three community meetings before nearly 180 residents and collected the responses of more than 200 patrons who took an on-line survey. The committee found the public sought more space for working and for a children’s library and a bigger, working elevator.

An online “tour” of the three options and how the committee came to its conclusion can be found here.

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Comments

  1. Jonathan says

    We are having financial troubles as a town and yet we are going to spend millions to build a new library at a time when technology is making space at a library less important that funding for programs AT the library?

    A half century is nothing. Most people’s houses around here are almost twice as old as that library. There is absolutely no good reason we need a new shiny library, or even a $16M renovation of the current one.

    An intelligent and responsible solution would be to reallocate space in the current library, and pay for reasonable modernization. Right now parts of the library are overloaded and others are underutilized. Much of the space issues could be solved by rationalizing the usage of current space, not adding on new space.

    If people keep trying to turn Belmont into Cambridge, it will end badly for Belmont.

    • Jen says

      You are exactly right on with everything you said Jonathan! Thank you! As someone who has lived in this town my entire life and are 5th generation I can think of a lot of other ways to spend that money (like a new hockey rink where we could actually make money). The library is fine. Also if we keep replacing these older buildings with as you said, new and shiny ones we will begin to lose all the charm this town has.

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