Selectmen Back Library Trustees’ Move To Create Building Committee

Photo: Library Trustees’ Chair Kathleen Keohane (left) speaking to the Belmont Selectmen

In a significant step on the future of the Belmont Public Library, the town’s Board of Selectmen agreed Monday night, Sept. 18, to add an article in the Special Town Meeting warrant in November to create a building committee to construct a new library.

In a 3-0 vote, the selectmen backed a decision by the Belmont Board of Library Trustees made earlier to move forward with the recommendations of a 2017 feasibility study calling for a structure placed on the library’s current site on Concord Avenue.

“It is the right time for the library,” Trustees’ Chair Kathleen Keohane told the Selectmen. She said the establishment of a building committee would allow the trustees to commission a schematic design of the new structure which will enable private fundraising to begin.

The library article will include both language creating the building committee and an amount to fund the schematic drawings. It will then be brought before Town Meeting which votes on whether to support the Trustees’ vision or reject it.

“We live in a representative form of government and I think it’s time for Town Meeting to weigh in on this issue,” said Selectmen Chair Jim Williams.

Keohane said the trustees would be seeking from the town half of the estimated $300,000 needed to draw up the schematic designs, with $150,000 donated by the Belmont Public Library Foundation.

“It is a town asset so it is important that the town shows its support and share the cost,” said Keohane.

The successful petition for a building committee article comes five months after the trustees agreed to withdraw its initial article they had prepared for May Town Meeting at the request of the Selectmen and the then recently formed Major Capital Projects Working Group.

The Working Group told the Trustees it required time to analyze the town’s major capital projects – High School, Library, DPW, Police Station and Incinerator Site – in order to define a sound plan for building, sequencing and possible financing. Keohane and Selectmen Adam Dash said for the delay, a promise was agreed to between the parties to reintroduce the building committee article before the Special Town Meeting in the fall.

Keohane and Selectmen Adam Dash said for the delay, a promise was agreed to between the parties to reintroduce the building committee article before the Special Town Meeting in the fall.

Dash said while the selectmen are supporting the article, “this is not a commitment to build [the library] or even create a building committee. This just means putting it on the docket for Town Meeting to have a say.”

“We told [Town Meeting] that this is for fundraising and it’s hard to say, ‘go out there and fundraise without the tools to do that’,” said Dash, who added that by having a building committee doesn’t mean the library will “jump the line” in front of the other projects.

While supportive of the building committee, Selectman Mark Paolillo – who is the selectmen’s representative on the Major Capital Projects group – said it didn’t make sense for the trustees to move forward on the library before the Working Group has presented its plan.

“How do Town Meeting members debate an article for a building committee when they haven’t yet heard a report from the Working Group?” quired Paolillo.

But both Williams and Dash said at the November Town Meeting, the Working Group will give its report, the Town Moderator will open the meeting for debate and then move on the building committee article.

Keohane interjected, telling the selectmen “there is a clear need for us to take action.”

“As an elected official and steward of the library … we need to move forward in a methodical, purposeful way to make changes to the library,” she said.

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