Library Trustee Blasts Planning Board On New Library Placement

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.

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Comments

  1. Madeliene Marino says

    Hi,

    It makes me sad that our town would even consider moving our beloved
    Belmont Free Public Library from its lovely, town-owned, historic site
    with plenty of parking, to another location in town with busy traffic, probably
    less parking, housed in a building that would never belong to the town and
    built on land that would never belong to the town.

    Why would we, as a town, ever want to go from being the property owner of our Free Public Library to being mere renters of space that houses our Library? Why would we ever place ourselves in the unenviable position of being beholden to the land owner/developer who would hold all the cards each and every time the lease was up for renewal, because they would know that we had boxed ourselves into having no place to go.

    With this scenario, I could see a time with increased rental fees, that the town
    could possibly be left with the choice of passing an override, cutting town services or closing the Library.

    I appreciate the hard work , dedication and thought that went into trying to
    find a creative solution to somehow be able to move forward with the many Capital Projects that are on the table, however, to be realistic, let’s make
    sure that we have sufficient votes to pass the future debt exclusion for
    a new high school first.

    Our Belmont Free Public Library is an invaluable asset to our town. I believe
    that we have a responsibility to forever own the library and the land that it is built on in order to preserve this jewel of our town for future generations.

    • Renee says

      Well said Madeliene! There should be NO WAY that the town’s people let go of the ownership of our free library, especially its current location which is not only historic, but also geographically centered within our community which provides much easier access to all neighborhoods. It’s also critical to realize that the current library location serves excellently our high schoolers and middle schoolers, and it has already been woven into the cultural and civic fabric of our historic town center.

      Also the mere fact that the library director and the board of trustees heard about this “proposal” from a resident SERIOUSLY troubles me, and it should trouble everyone in town. Where are the transparencies? The collaborations? Whose benefits did the planning board represent when they threw this proposal in front of the public?

      I support the creation of a more vibrant Waverley Square. The neighborhood deserves it. But keep in mind that Waverley Square is one of the few retail/commercial centers in the town that has strategic significance to the town’s long term financial standing. It has huge potential for well-planned/designed commercial growth, possibly transit oriented development, that will help generate long term and much needed commercial taxes revenue. How about a mixed use of some senior housing, some office, some first floor retail/restaurants? Working professionals can take trains to work (reduced parking needs) and do their grocery shopping and dinning in our commercial center (business revenue), while seniors can easily grab a coffee downstairs (convenience). Having a private developer build and control a non revenue generating “library” and lease it back to the town for profit, it just simply sounds like a nightmare for the town.

      I’m sure the town’s people will stand together against this reckless “idea”.

  2. T says

    I hope this idea to move the Town library has NO reality to it. It seems that there might be a lot more going on behind the scenes between the property owners, developers and the town planners, and that the library and the elderly are just pawns to be moved around. They clearly have not been respected as a major stakeholders, or they would have been fully included in the process from day one.

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