Photo: (from left) Raffi Manjikian and Liz Allison on the Planning Board speaking to Kathleen Keohane of the Library Trustees (foreground)
Kathleen Keohane was more than a bit perturbed outside of the Planning Board meeting on Tuesday night, July 18.
It wasn’t because she had a busy day at work and that she was missing dinner to attend the scheduled meeting at Town Hall. Just a few days previous, Keohane, the chair of the Board of Trustees of the Belmont Public Library, was told by a resident that the Planning Board had presented an ambitious plan last week to construct a new town library as part of a public/private partnership to be located at the Belmont Car Wash in Waverley Square.
Just one problem with the proposal in Keohane view: no one told her or any other trustee about the project. And she wanted everyone in town to know that was unacceptable.
“I am astonished and dismayed that there has been no outreach to the Library Director (or the trustees of substance to discuss this,” Keohane told the Belmontonian Tuesday. She said the Planning Board’s release of the proposal came after the Trustees spent 14 months and $40,000 of Town Meeting approved funds to conduct a far-ranging feasibility study for the construction of a new library.
Keohane said the study revealed that patrons and residents want the library to stay put at its current location on Concord Avenue near the Underwood Pool. And with 1,000 unique visits, the library attracts vehicle traffic which could hamper its use in the highly traveled Waverley Square.
“We have heard pretty clearly what residents want,” said Keohane.
Keohane said the only time she spoke to the Planning Board on anything close to a new library was when she “ran into [Allison] in the hallway” at the Chenery Middle School during the Belmont League of Women Voters’ candidates’ debate in March.
“She said she left me a message on my home phone to introduced this idea, but since then there has been absolutely no outreach. I don’t even know what the concept is,” she said.
What makes the entire scenario difficult for the trustees is because they are on the cusp of moving forward with a major fundraising effort to pay for the $23 million building. But that effort has been delayed until the fall after the trustees agreed to a request to hold back its plans by the Capital Budget Committee at this year’s Town Meeting as it studied the major capital projects around town.
“We have been open and transparent in trying to move things forward, and the courtesy of outreach would have been much appreciated,” said Keohane.
Keohane said she has not attempted to reach out to the Planning Board “because honestly, I thought someone would have the courtesy to reach out.” She was at the meeting “to learn as much information as I can.”
And 75 minutes after arriving, Keohane strode to the cable television microphone to express how awestruck she was about the proposal.
“We are eager to learn more because we have been put in a tough spot because we have been receiving a lot of calls from folks for more information,” Keohane told the board.
Allison responded by reminding Keohane of the “brief and even more informal conversation” they had in March.
“We had a hallway conversation … where you raised this issue to me and I said I was not speaking for the trustees and I expressed my concern that it was not the right site for a library,” said Keohane, calling the meeting “out of the blue.”
Keohane noted that the trustees had met multiple times with all the town’s major stakeholders on its path towards the construction of a new library “so we want to be in on the conversation and not feel like we’re left out on the side(lines). We were just caught off guard.”
Allison responded that the board’s feeling is it’s happy to have any conversation in any form.
“It’s an idea,” said the Planning Board’s Raffi Manjikian of the Waverley Square proposal. “It’s one to throw out on the table for consideration, and there are a lot of stakeholders that will need to be engaged and get their support and express their support.”
“We will have a better idea by the end of the month whether this has any reality to it,” Allison said.