FinCom wants to table STM article to fund restoration of old library front entrance

At Special Town Meeting in two weeks, the Finance Committee will recommend that the article asking for additional money to pay for construction of an ADA-compliant front entrance to the old library be tabled until the spring. Article 3 asks the town to approve $672,114 for the project, $200,000 more than Special Town Meeting approved last November, but committee members want a more “holistic” plan that includes money for replacing the building’s roof as well. The decision to recommend a delay came at last week’s Oct. 3 meeting. The vote in favor of the delay was 5-1, with member Jennifer Finch opposed. The seventh member of the committee, Charles Oliver, was absent.

In making their recommendation, committee members were influenced by member and Capital Planning and Investment Committee co-Chair John Seeley’s report that the town was likely to ask for an additional $400,000 for the building next spring to fix its leaking slate roof. Although the town received a $191,000 grant for the front entrance project from the Mass. Cultural Facilities Fund last winter, the town would “be on the hook” for most of the combined total of $1 million that would be required to complete both the front entrance and roof projects.

“I personally feel [that the amount requested for the front entrance] is way too much money to put into this building, knowing the need for a new roof,” said Seeley.

“If your argument is that it’s a valuable town asset that we need to maintain,” said FinCom Chair Don Ludwig, “it would seem that fixing the roof has a much higher priority than redoing the front entrance.” It would be pointless to make the building accessible without putting a new roof on it, added member Richard Fellows.

The question, said Ludwig, is “What is the appetite of the town?” For all intents and purposes, “it’s a surplus building,” he said. “The town does not need the use of that building. We don’t have any departments in there … Do we spend a million dollars to keep the building looking great, or do we lock it up?” The Harvard Cultural Collaborative is occupying the building, which is great, said Ludwig, but only paying $7,200 per year for space that costs the town $15,000 to maintain. Other members noted that the building is old and other renovations could be needed in the next 10 years. Moreover, once the new elementary school is finished and Bromfield House is no longer needed for school administrative offices, the town will have a second surplus building.

ADA compliance

At this point, discussion turned to ADA compliance. The old library has never been compliant with Mass. Architectural Access Board regulations, although it has had various occupants over the years, including town employees while Town Hall was being restored. The town finally sought and was granted a three-year variance from the AAB a year ago that allows the building to be occupied while work proceeds on making it accessible. The variance, however, expires in two years, Assistant Town Administrator Marie Sobalvarro observed. The only way to avoid compliance, added Ludwig, would be to “kick the cultural collaborative out of the building and lock it up.”

“We have to look at this holistically,” concluded Ludwig. “The Select Board has got to decide, as a town, do we want this building? Do we want to keep it as an overflow building in case we burst out of Town Hall … or do we want to explore a sale and see what private money might come in?”

That discussion was inconclusive,

Member Bruce Nickerson then moved that FinCom recommend Article 3 be tabled until Annual Town Meeting next May, with a request by the committee that the Select Board return with a budget for both an ADA-compliant entrance and a new roof. The committee will voice its recommendation at the Oct. 22 Special Town Meeting, but a member of the committee, acting as a private citizen, will make the motion to table.

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