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A Shrewsbury Library Public Hearing Viewpoint, by Ben Tartaglia, Shrewsbury, MA
On Thursday night, September 12, 2013, a public hearing was held at the Shrewsbury Town Hall, regarding the proposal of the $26,000,000 renovation and expansion of the Shrewsbury Public Library. The 2011 proposal was estimated at $18,000,000.
The hearing centered, (believe it or not), around what the speakers believed to be the facts. The moderator managed the meeting professionally, and with humor. The Library Director and the Town Manager answered all the questions directly and completely. (Note: To their credit did this even though technically they are not required to answer questions at a public hearing.) We heard from seniors, moms and dads, a high school student and, the hit of the night, an adorable little girl (and hopefully future member of the Board of Selectmen), who received the evening’s only outbreak of applause.
The 2011 library proposal was defeated by a narrow margin of 163 votes, based on a voter turnout of 27%. A speaker at the hearing said he had been told that some of the people in favor thought the ballot question would pass overwhelmingly, so they did not show up to vote. Although it was not mentioned at the hearing, many “no” voters also stayed home because they believed the vote would have been overwhelmingly defeated. So both sides hope their respective turnout will be larger. If the percentages hold true the November library question will be defeated again by a narrow margin. In that case we will be back to square one.
The latest proposal has been modified based on feedback from the 2011 ballot question defeat. The drive-up window has been eliminated. The café has been reduced in size. The overall square footage has been reduced by 10%. The Children’s Library has been moved from the second floor to the ground level for security, safety and accessibility reasons. The West (Route 140) view of the building has been redesigned. The original 1903 building remains the focal point of the design. The size of the building is based on a program formula required by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC). Approval of the proposal will make the town eligible for $8,000,000 in State grants.
There is disagreement regarding the space requirements relative to growth, the use of eBooks the changing demographics of the town and the schools and the “bookless” libraries of the future. The size of the building is considered by some to be too big and too expensive. One comment made at the hearing was: “It’s 10% smaller and 50% more expensive.” The Children’s library is 3 times larger than the current one. The proposed Young Adult area is 2 times larger than the current one. There is an additional meeting room for 120 while the existing meeting room sits 80 (150% larger), and the average meeting attendance is under 50. The Senior Center and The schools have existing areas with ample room for larger meetings. No evidence has been presented indicating a need for the proposed additional meeting room. Some are concerned the Credit Union building, recently purchased by the town for $700,000, will be demolished to make way for the East wing of the new library. The demolition would not be required if the building were to be smaller.
Why is the proposed building so large and so expensive? The library building committee is mandated by the State to use a 1998 Wisconsin formula (I.E. Program) for building size. According to the library building committee, the State requires us to use the Wisconsin template in order to receive State funds, EVEN IF WE DO NOT HAVE A NEED FOR THE SPACE. My understanding is, when we reach the $18,000,000 cost level of the $26,000,000 total library cost, the additional cost ($8,000,000) will have to be paid 100% by the town because we must complete the project to keep the State reimbursement. The $8,000,000 difference is attributed to redesign, inflation, the preferred project management approach and because we will have to pay 100% for the last $8,000,000 with no help from the State. In my opinion, by refusing the State funds, we could renovate/build a much smaller, less expensive, adequately sized library, on our own, without a State mandated size and cost.