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Article 10 and Question 4: Old library repairs

Article 10 of the Spring Town Meeting warrant and Question 4 on the ballot ask for $921,260 in additional funds to replace the roof and gutter system of the old library, and to repair any damaged masonry caused by water leaks. The funding would be paid for through excluded debt. 

At the 2019 Annual Town Meeting, the town voted $480,000 for this same project, but a subsequent estimate showed that would not be nearly enough. If this vote passes at both Town Meeting and the ballot box, the project would have the necessary $1.4 million to move forward. If not, the town would need to figure out how to keep the building from deteriorating further in the face of continued leaks and damaged masonry.

In the fall of 2019, the town contracted with Gale Associates on the recommendation of the Permanent Building Committee to determine the full scope of the problems with the roof and masonry. Gale provided two estimates—one to repair the existing leaks and associated masonry damage and one to replace the entire roof and repair all leak-related problems. The repair-only estimate was $650,000, while the estimate for the full roof replacement and associated repairs was $1.26 million. Both estimates included design costs and other soft costs as well as contingencies.

To reach those estimates, Gale performed a visual evaluation of the roof, gutters, downspouts, and interior and exterior masonry, and made test cuts to look at the wood deck under the roof shingles and masonry below the gutters. It reported that most leaks were not coming from the roof itself but from the gutters and clogged downspouts and that the number of downspouts was insufficient. The biggest problem was that water from the leaks had infiltrated the masonry, causing mortar to deteriorate.

Gale said about 20% of the slate tiles on the roof appeared to be broken, loose, or missing, so it recommended the full replacement option, which included replacing the slate, copper, and membrane roofs and all the sheet metal components such as flashing. This option also included repairing masonry and reinforcing roof rafters where recommended.

The repair option included replacing about 4 feet around the edges of the roof to allow installation of ice and water shields and new gutters. Sheet metal and masonry affected by the partial roof replacement would also be replaced or repaired, and masonry located directly below the gutters would be rebuilt and repointed. Both the repair and replacement options included new gutters and downspouts as well as installation of additional downspouts and cleaning of the underground drainage lines.

At a Dec. 3, 2019, Select Board meeting, members agreed that the ratio of benefit to cost was much higher for the replacement option than the repair option. The board recommended the roof replacement and submitted a funding request to the Capital Planning and Investment Committee (CPIC) for $921,260, an amount that would bring the total funding to $1.4 million. As of press time, the discrepancy between the Gale estimate of $1.26 million and the amount of the total funding request was not available.

CPIC voted 3-2 against the roof replacement, and the Finance Committee did not recommend the project either. Members of both committees said they would like to understand the full cost of all the repairs needed in the old library before investing any more money in it. They have also expressed dissatisfaction with the low revenue the building is generating as a cultural center leased to the nonprofit organization Fivesparks. 

Last week, CPIC revisited the list of capital projects on this year’s warrant at the request of the Select Board, and Nate Finch was the only member who maintained support for the old library roof. CPIC member Alice von Loesecke, chair of the Select Board, withdrew her support saying, “It’s time for the town to decide what use of that building they want, and if they’re not going to use it, why support it?”

Another bit of bad news came in May when the Mass Cultural Council informed Assistant Town Administrator Marie Sobalvarro that the town would not receive the $600,000 grant it applied for last year to help fund the roof replacement. The council reported that the process was highly competitive, and Sobalvarro has asked to see its review of the town’s grant request.

Leaks in the building have already forced the removal of a section of new carpeting, installed during last year’s front entrance accessibility renovation. The Board of Health notified the town that the carpet cannot be replaced until the building’s water infiltration problems are fixed. Town Administrator Tim Bragan told the Press that the town’s new facilities manager is already developing short-term options to keep the building dry should Article 10 fail.

Fivesparks’ Board President Mark Mikitarian sent the Press the following statement regarding Article 10: “As a nonprofit, Fivesparks—like so many Harvard residents—appreciates the financial challenges presented by the local and global circumstances facing us. If the article does not pass, we’re hopeful that the Select Board and town administration will respond with a near-term plan to protect this historic asset from further deterioration, so that we can continue to offer arts and culture programs to the community.” 

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