Letter To The Editor: Fundraising For New Library Hits $5 Million Mark

To the editor:

We are excited to announce that the Belmont Library Building Project has received an historic $2 million grant intention from the Belmont Savings Bank Foundation, bringing fundraising for a new library building to a milestone moment: $5 million and counting.

The $2 million grant intention for the new library building from the Belmont Savings Bank Foundation is unprecedented for the Foundation, the Town of Belmont, and of course, the Belmont Public Library Building Project. For the past 11 years, the Belmont Savings Bank Foundation has supported important charitable purposes that significantly impact the Belmont community, including education and literacy, athletics and arts, food security, playgrounds, and the Underwood Pool. With the $2 million grant intention, contingent on a debt exclusion, the Foundation will create a lasting legacy through the Belmont Public Library that will improve life for Belmont residents.

Fundraising totals for the Library Building Project have now crossed the $5 million milestone and continue to grow. The fundraising team from the non-profit Belmont Library Foundation has created an inclusive fundraising effort that encourages participation at whatever level is appropriate for each donor, and the community has responded. More than 850 people and organizations have made contributions and pledges ranging from $1 to $2 million

Private donations are a crucial component of funding for the Belmont Library Building Project. The $5 million in available funds and pledges – restricted for the construction of a new library building – will offset the amount of public funding required for the project and reduce the financial impact on Belmont residents. To learn more about making a donation for the new library building and recognition opportunities, visit www.newlibraryfund.org.

The Library Building Project took another notable step forward last week when the Belmont Select Board voted to include a debt exclusion vote for the new library building on the Nov. 8 election ballot. The serious issues with the old library building make it imperative that the project move forward as soon as possible, and the Select Board’s endorsement of the project and action to send it to Belmont voters reflect the urgent need to replace the building. The debt exclusion is the next big step to achieve the greenlight for the project. For more information about the Belmont Library Building Project, please visit www.belmontlibraryfoundation.org.

We want to thank Belmont residents and organizations for their commitment to building a new library for our community. Together we have come far, and with these funding milestones, we are closer to making the new library the reality for Belmont.

Kathy Keohane, vice-chair, Belmont Board of Library Trustees
Marcie Schorr Hirsch, president, Belmont Library Foundation

Select Board Places New Belmont Library On November Ballot As Fundraising Reaches $5 Million Mark

Photo: It’s now up to the voters in November to decide the fate of a new Belmont Public Library.

Twenty-three years after it was first proposed, a new Belmont Public Library will be on the Nov. 8 general election ballot as the Select Board unanimously approved placing a $39.5 million debt exclusion to build a 42,000 square-foot structure at the library’s present location at 336 Concord Ave. at its July 18 meeting.

“I think we’ve come to a point where we really don’t have the luxury of waiting much longer,” said Select Board Member Roy Epstein and putting the decision in the voters hands.

The decision came a week before the board was set to decide whether to place debt exclusions for the library and a new municipal skating facility before voters on the November election.

“I don’t have any problem putting up the library tonight,” said Board Member Adam Dash. ”There’s nothing left to talk about,” as the project has been throughly vetted since it began in 2018 and any more delays will result in escalated costs, he said.

The board’s vote came after an announcement earlier in the meeting when library supporters reported raising $5 million in funds and commitments to support the new building. The big news Monday was a $2 million grant – provided if the debt exclusion passes – from the Belmont Savings Bank Foundation to support the project.

“The Belmont Savings Bank was a pillar of the community for so many years, much like the library is now and will continue to be in the new building that serves the needs of the entire community,” said Gail Mann of the Board of Library Trustees. ”We are close to $5 million in funding with [more than] 850 donors with additional donations since then.”

“Five million dollars raised is incredible and it’s growing beyond that,” said Chair Mark Paolillo. “It shows the residents of this community that there’s incredible support for this library.”

“And all the dollars that get donated is one less dollar we have to issue in the debt exclusion and makes the project that much better,” said Dash.

For the campaigners who have been in the forefront of creating a new library, its efforts now transfers to convincing a majority of voters in the next 113 days to pass a debt exclusion in the $34 million range.

“There will be a political ’Yes’ campaign now that we are officially on the ballot,” said Peter Struzziero, library director. He said while he and his staff will not be advocating for a vote, they still can provide information on the project.

”We’ve held more than 50 meetings with every group, official and unofficial, that we could and we plan to hold more information sessions going forward,” said Trustee Chair Elaine Alligood.

“I think there is a lot of community support. I think there has been a ton of outreach by the trustees, the [Belmont Library] Foundation, the Friends of the Belmont Library and Peter Struzziero and his staff,” said Mann.

Struzziero said that unlike the previous two proposals which relied on state funding and support, this project ”is the first one that was ever completely driven by Belmont residents.

”It’s also the smallest building that’s ever been proposed and it’s got the most fundraising now of any project in the history of Belmont. There’s a lot of things that are different about this time around and this time, we’re confident that the voters will make the decision that’s best for the community,” said Struzziero.

Landslide! Debt Exclusion For New 7-12 School Passes By More Than 3 To 1 Margin

Photo: Ellen Schreiber (right), co-chair of “Yes on 4” celebrating Tuesday night’s election result.

In a result that few could have predicted, Belmont voters overwhelmingly approved a debt exclusion to construct a new 7th through 12th grades school building by more than three to one margin on election day, Tuesday, Nov. 6.

The final vote total on Question 4 was 9,467 yes and 2,952 no with the “yes” vote receiving 76.2 percent support from the 12,833 voters – a whopping 72.4 percent turnout of registered voters – who crowded Belmont’s eight precincts throughout the mostly rain swept day. 

The night was a spectacular victory for two groups, the Belmont High School Building Committee which created a transparent and public-friendly process as the project moved from initial support by the state to a nearly finished design, and the “Yes On 4” advocacy group which promoted the new high school as, despite its costly label, fiscally responsible.

“When I first started seeing the numbers come in, I just couldn’t believe them. It says something when that many people in the town agree that we needed to do this,” said Ellen Schreiber, the “Yes on 4” co-chair with Sara Masucci at a large celebration with Question 4 supporters on Tuesday night. “It’s an amazing day for the town, for our residents, and for our children.”

The question now heads to next week’s Special Town Meeting on Nov. 13 where it will be presented before Belmont’s legislative body for approval, which is a near certainty. While the ballot question does not indicate a cost of the exclusion, the Building Committee placed a $213 million price tag for the town’s share of the $295 million middle/high school. The Massachusetts School Building Committee, which has worked in partnership with the town since it voted to accept Belmont’s application to build a new school in January 2016, will pony up the remaining funds. 

With approval at the Special Town Meeting, the construction of the 451,575 square-foot campus housing 2,215 students will get underway with the completion of the building design in April 2019 with actual shovels in the ground after the school year ends in June 2019 with the 9-12 grade portion of the school completed by July 2021. The middle school section will then be built on the site of the former high school. The school will be completed by September 2023.

Just how unexpectedly large the “yes” majority turned out was caught in the reaction to the vote total from Pat Brusch, a member of the Belmont High School Building Committee, who accompanied Belmont School Committee Chair Susan Burgess-Cox to a backroom in Town Hall where Town Clerk Ellen Cushman and volunteers were tabulating the 3,400 early voting ballots minutes after the polls closed at 8 p.m.

Ten minutes after the polls closed, the first two early voting results, for Precincts 1 and 2, showed the yes’ had scored widespread support, a cumulative total of 777 to 250 in favor.

“It’s still early,” said Brusch, a noted pessimist who had spent past elections anxiously waiting the votes from residents with a well-known skepticism to approving tax increases.

When the result from the precincts themselves began filtering in on Burgess Cox’ cell-phone showing Belmont voters in near complete support for the new school project, Brusch – who was also vice-chair of the Wellington Building Committee and served on the building committees for the Chenery and Burbank/Winn Brook school construction projects – stood to stare in stunned silence for several seconds.

“I’m truly shocked,” Brusch final said as it became clear that before even a quarter of the votes had been tallied the “yes” majority would take the day.

For Burgess-Cox, the result “is amazing. The number of people who voted and the number who voted for [the debt exclusion] is an affirmation for Belmont’s schools.” 

At the celebration at a supporter’s house midway between the Chenery and Wellington schools, Schreiber said the victory for the school was accomplished fully by the dozens of volunteers who did both the large and small activities; from knocking on doors, creating innovative videos, to those who spent Tuesday in the rain for hours holding signs at intersections and the precincts.

“We wouldn’t have won without them,” she said.

The pitch to the public was straight forward; a new school would resolve issues that were threatening the education of the district’s children, said Schreiber

“Everyone saw that we needed to do this. The problems in the school system whether it’s over enrollement or inadequate buildings is real and they need to be solved. And this is a really great solution, it’s well planned and vetted by the building committee and we had an unpresidented amount of community meeting to give their input,” said Schreiber, who praised the group for “kicking the tires” on the project to demonstrate to residents that the project has been thoroughly evalutated with a great deal of transparency. 

“Through the course of this campaign, all we’ve been doing is communicating what the building committee has done. And with 76 percent of the vote, the town agreed.” she said.