Despite Opposition, Select Board OKs Library’s Children’s Room Move To Benton Library During Construction

Photo: Residents in the que to speak about the temporary transfer of the Belmont Public Library’s Chirldren’s Room to the Benton Library.

It was past William and Kate’s bedtime, but their mom, Jess Hausman, decided it was worth missing some shuteye to present their letters before the Belmont Select Board to keep the children’s room open as the new Belmont Public Library is built.

With the demolition of the library just months away, the Hausman family and other residents brought their worries that the children’s room and its services were still up in the air due to residents’ concerns.

“Dear Select Bood – Plees ceep the chidrins sechsins open,” wrote Kate, 6.

“I saw my younger child go through the process of becoming an early reader this summer. A critical aspect was her looking through and selecting her own books,” said Hausman in prepared remarks. “Fluency in reading and interacting with books should be cultivated in childhood,” said Hausman.

By the end of an hour of presentations, William, 8, and Kate will be able to peruse and check out books at the independent Everett C. Benton Library after the Select Board unanimously approved temporarily transferring the Jane Gray Dustan Children’s Room collection to the independent library on Oakley Road during the construction of the new public library.

“Very excited to see the Benton this way,” Kathleen Keohane, chair of the Board of Library Trustees, told the Belmontonian after the board’s decision on Monday, Aug. 7.

Later at the meeting, the Board approved a Memorandum of Understanding in which the town will manage the library at 75 Oakley Rd., on the corner of Oakley and Old Middlesex roads. The town will return the building to the Friends of the Benton Library’s board with the completion of the new public library in the summer of 2025.

With the closing of the Public Library rapidly approaching, it was imperative for the trustees to find alternative locations for its services. While new locations for adult circulation and services (Beech Street Center) and staff (Chenery school) were easy to settle on, it took most of the summer working with town officials and the board of the non-profit Benton Library to hammer out a deal to bring the children’s collection to the former branch library.

Finding a home for the children’s room was the final critical component of the trustee’s pre-construction plans. Without a dedicated space for children’s services, the Belmont Library system would likely lose its state certification and membership to the Minuteman Library Network and likely forego state funds.

But the trustees’ plan hit a snag as abutters and neighbors of the library roundly criticized it during a presentation before the Select Board in late July. While adamant that neighbors were not against the library using the facility, several residents said the area could not accommodate the anticipated influx of vehicles bringing children to the Benton with the proposed 50 hours, compromising the safety of both neighborhood and visiting children and other pedestrians.

After the first Select Board meeting, Keohane met with three neighborhood representatives. But it was apparent to Keohane that the residents weren’t especially interested in an actual compromise. One of the residents, Marc Caporini of Indian Hill Road, speaking at Monday’s meeting, told the board that negotiations on the prospective hours must start with a “pilot” program with 20 hours a week, a two-thirds cut in the current children’s hours, which the trustees quickly deemed unpalatable.

Belmont Board of Library Trustee Kathy Keohane

Finding its partner unwilling to dance with them, the trustees created their own mitigation blueprint to meet the Select Board’s demands of lessening the impact of the library program on the neighborhood.

After an initial goal of 54 weekly hours was scrapped at the Select Board’s insistence, the updated agenda calls for 39 operating hours over six days including two days with evening hours, with the Benton closed on Sundays. Currently, the Benton is open five days a week for a total of 19 1/2 hours. Due to the building’s small size – the interior is a mere 900 sq. ft. – programs and events will be held off-site. The site will be staffed with three to four library employees, half taking public transportation to the Benton.

A working group will be established where residents, the Benton board, the town, and the library can facilitate ongoing communications and collaboration, said Keohane.

“This is a substantial change to what we had initially proposed and what we have today, and we think this [plan] is acceptable,” said Keohane. While acknowledging the transfer is an imposition on the residents, residents noted the library’s “big ask” of the neighborhood is not a permanent one.

“This is very temporary,” said Anne Paulsen, a former Select Board member. “We all need to pull together to make sure that our library and its programs function just as they have all along.”

“Most of us line in neighborhoods that are impacted by traffic and have been impacted by traffic during construction. We lived through it and you move on. It works,” said Paulsen who lives on School Street.

The neighbors opposing the suggested hours reiterated their concerns of safety and impact on the surrounding streets.

Lenna Garibian, an immediate abutter of the Benton, told the board that as a supporter of the current Benton setup since 2011, she hoped that the 20-or-so residents who make up those concerned with the plan would be part of the solution.

“We have always felt that we had a responsibility and a role in having the solution. We are here to help find a solution. We just believe that we should be part of a solution,” said Garibian.

Unlike the previous meeting when the neighbors filled the room, library supporters came out in force both in person and via Zoom. Amy Checkowey, a neighbor and school committee member, noted that for many families with young children is their “first and primary touch point to connect to the Belmont community” is through the Children’s Room. The trustee’s plan for “this critically important town service” exists using a community asset “willing to partner” with the Belmont Public Library.

And it’s not just the books on the shelves that is needed, said Iris Ponte, the director of the Henry Frost Children’s Program on Pleasant Street.

“[Today] I can look to Deborah [Borsuk, Coordinator of Children’s Services] and say, ‘We need to learn about cats, and ‘boom’ she’s got all the books that are on the computer and ordering them,” said Ponte who was speaking for her fellow early education teachers and day care professional.

“What we need is very highly trained, caring staff that we’ve been working with for year to help us courate these books so we can bring them back to the students.”

After the discussion of concluded, Board Member Mark Paolillo spoke for the board saying the new plan “is a fair compromise.”

Nor is the hours and days “set in stone,” according to the Select Board’s Elizabeth Dionne. “I think we all need to accept this process. They could evolve.”

Benton Library Closed Indefinitely After Chimney Collapse

Photo: The Benton Library after the collapse of its chimney

The Benton Library, the independent community library at the corner of at the corner of Oakley and Old Middlesex Roads, will be closed indefinitely after the building’s chimney suddenly gave way Thursday afternoon, Feb. 10.

“Sadly, this past Thursday, on a beautiful, very calm morning, the Benton Library chimney collapsed,” Elizabeth Gibson, president of the Friends of Benton Library, wrote in an email to patrons. The 130-year-old building originally constructed as a chapel for a private boys’ school became a branch of the Belmont Public Library in 1930 and an independent library in 2011. An extensive history of the building can be found here.

Belmont Police and Fire responded followed by David Blazon, the town’s facilities manager and Kevin Pickering, Belmont Building Inspector, “who have been incredibly helpful.”

Soon after, businessman Frank French and Jim Kelly from Cambridge Landscaping assisted in removing debris and securing the building while Sean Green from Storm Works Roofing patched the roof.

“We don’t know what we would have done without them,” said Gibson.

The previous week, the Friend’s sent emails welcoming people to come back to the Library. “We were very gratified by the overwhelmingly positive response,” she said.

Since the furnace vents into the chimney, the building’s heating and water systems have been shut down, reported Gibson.  

“We are talking to contractors about how to move forward. The Benton Library will need to stay temporarily closed a little longer. We’re not sure how long. At least a few weeks; probably longer,” she wrote. “There’s a lot to figure out about rebuilding the chimney, but we’ll get there.”

Banking on Children’s Book For the Benton Library at Belmont Savings

Photo: Benton Library.

Belmont Savings Bank has announced it is holding a Children’s Book Drive to benefit Benton Library. Residents can bring in any old or unused children’s books to the bank’s main Belmont branch before Oct. 31, and the books will be donated to the Benton Library.

Residents can bring in any old or unused children’s books to the bank’s main Belmont branch before Oct. 31, and the books will be donated to the Benton Library.

The Benton Library, at the corner of Oakley and Old Middlesex is a nonprofit, independent community library in Belmont run by volunteers and supported entirely by staff donations. The historic site was designed in 1892 as a chapel for the Belmont School For Boys, and was eventually purchased by Everett C. Benton in 1903 who made the chapel available for Belmont public meetings. After his death, his family offered the chapel to the town to use as a library. 

Belmont Savings Bank is located at 2 Leonard St. in Belmont Center. It will be accepting book donations during normal hours of operation.


This Weekend: Benton Open House Saturday, A-B Chamber Chorus on Sunday

• The Benton Library, Belmont’s independent library located at Oakley and Old Middlesex, is holding it’s annual Open House on Saturday, Dec. 6, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Join the board of directors and volunteer staff to celebrate the season. Everyone in the community is welcomed to attend and anyone who hasn’t tried the Benton is urged to stop by.

• Students from Belmont’s Powers Music School are performing  their winter recitals with a holiday theme as they tour the area. They will be performing at the Watertown Mall, 550 Arsenal St. in Watertown on Saturday, Dec. 6 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Come early as the group will be a special holiday music story at 2 p.m. On Sunday, Dec. 7 at 1:30 p.m., the group heads to the Mall at Chestnut Hill in Newton.

• The Belmont Hill School’s Winter Concert will take place in Hamilton Chapel on Sunday, Dec. 7 at 2 p.m. Performing will be the school’s orchestra, jazz band, piano trio and the Belmont Hill B-Flats, the senior choral group, as well as the 9th grade’s A-Sharps. The concert is open to the public. 

• The Arlington-Belmont Chamber Chorus under conductor Barry Singer presents NOT-QUITE-WINTER CONCERT on Sunday, Dec. 7, beginning at 3 p.m. at Payson Park Church, 365 Belmont St. The concert will consist of six masses each from a different century and songs of poets over five hundred years. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for seniors and $7 for 17 years old and younger.

Benton Library Open ‘Late’ Tonight Friday

The Benton Library, Belmont’s independent library, will be open from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. today, Friday, Oct. 3, as part of the library’s long standing program of staying open “late” on the first Friday evening of every month.

Make the Benton a stop on your way home or after dinner. See the latest New York Times Best sellers. Browse the collection and use the library’s wifi connection. Buy some of the reasonably priced sale books with all proceeds going to the Benton.

What to Do Today: Making Rubber Band Bracelets, Beech Street Talent Show

• Here’s a rainy day event: Einstein’s Workshop program for Young Adults (for kids 10 and older) will be making “Rubber Band Jewelry: The Rainbow Code” in the Assembly Room of the Belmont Public Library beginning at 7 p.m. Discover how to make rubber band bracelets without a loom, learn a few tricks to encode hidden messages in the bracelet and even begin to write your own. Registration is required so call 617-993-2870.

• The Benton Library at Oakley and Old Middlesex will have pre-school summer story time at 10:30 a.m.  For children 3 to 5. Parents or caregivers must be present. Siblings may attend with adults.

• The Beech Street Center is holding its second annual Talent Show at 1:15 p.m. It was a great event last year so come by and enjoy singing, dancing, reading poetry and a lot more.

• The Belmont Public Library will be holding “Noon Movies for Children” at noon in the Assembly Room of the Belmont Public Library. The movies this week are:

  •    Bebe Goes Shopping
  •    Bebe Goes to the Beach
  •    All the Colors of the Earth
  •    The Foolish Frog
  •    Over in the Meadow
  •    Chicka Chicka Boom, Boom
  •    Roxaboxen

What to Do Today: Library’s Patriotic Story Time, the Benton is Open ’til 7 PM

• Story Time at the Belmont Public Library will have a 4th of July theme: “Red, White and Blue Storytime.” Celebrate America’s birthday with stories and a craft inspired by the colors of our flag in the Assembly Room from 10:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.

• Speaking of libraries, the Benton Library, the town’s independent volunteer-run library, will be open from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. Come by to use the WiFi or just to get out of the heat.

• Town offices will be open until 4 p.m. today.

• If you haven’t heard, the Boston Pops 4th of July concert and fireworks show has been moved to today, July 3, to avoid any impact from Tropical Storm Arthur.

Things to Do Today: Story Time at the Benton, Town Offices Closing at 1 PM

• The Benton Library, Belmont’s independent and volunteer run library at the corner of Old Middlesex and Oakley, will be holding Summer Pre-School Story Time at 10:30 a.m. with stories and crafts for children 3 to 5. Younger siblings may attend with adults. Parents or caregivers must be present. Registration is not required. Pre-School Story Time meets at 10:30 a.m. every Tuesday and Friday throughout the summer.

• The Belmont Public Library is closed from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. for a staff development day. It will reopen at 1 p.m. until closing at 5 p.m.

• Belmont town offices will be closing Fridays during the summer at 1 p.m. Just about the same time most residents are on the road to their favorite summer haunts. They will be back on schedule in September.

• On this day in 1859, American composer, organist and pianist Mildred Hill is born. With lyrics by her younger sister, Patty Smith Hill, the pair wrote the most popular song in world history: Happy Birthday to You.

Things to Do Today: Poet Burt at the Beech Street Center, Benton Storytime, Bates Touches New England

• Belmont poet Stephen Burt, who literary critic Frank Bidart called “one of the most gifted poets of his generation,” will read from “Belmont: Poems” his highly-recognized collection inspired by his hometown from 1:15 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. at the Beech Street Center, 266 Beech St. “Belmont: Poems,” received an NPR Best Book of 2013 and Publishers Weekly’s Top 10 Poetry Book of Spring 2013. His work was on the New York Times Book Review short list of best writing. Burt is a literary critic, poet, a professor of English at Harvard and a Burbank parent.
• Pre-School Storytime will be held at the Benton Library, Belmont’s independent and volunteer run library, at 10:30 a.m. Stories and crafts for children age 3 to 5. Parents or caregivers must attend. Siblings may attend with adults. Registration is not required. The Benton Library is located at the intersection of Oakley and Old Middlesex.
Davis Bates who will be “Celebrating New England: Songs & Stories for Everyone” at 4 p.m. at the Beech Street Center. Bates, a noted chronicler who was called by the late Pete Seeger “… a fantastic storyteller” and a winner of a Parents’ Choice Award, will sing songs from the past and present, as well as tell ghost, Native American and farming stories. There will also be sing-alongs, and a lesson on how to play the spoons. Special appearance by a wooden dog named Bingo. This program is supported in part by a grant from the Belmont Cultural Council, a local agency, which is supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.
• The Belmont School Committee will present and vote on the district’s fiscal year 2015 budget at 7:30 p.m. in the small community room at the Chenery Middle School.
Belmont High’s Girls’ Outdoor Track team will take on Winchester High at 3:30 p.m. on Harris Field.