SHREWSBURY, Massachusetts – To build, or not to build, that is the question. As the town of Shrewsbury gets ready to once again vote on the potential construction of a new library, the rhetoric appears to be getting a bit heated on both sides of the issue. As you likely will recall, the town narrowly defeated the proposed debt exclusion issue in 2011, which was for an $18 Million appropriation, sending the plans back to the drawing board, and asking the proponents to come back with a smaller, more affordable option. At the time, while nobody questioned the fact that current building is in need of repairs, many felt that the proposed project was just way too large, and too costly, especially taking into account that municipal buildings are usually about planning for “the future,” and there are obviously questions as to whether the “library of the future” will actually contain 200,000 physical books lining shelf after shelf. They pointed out that the library has always been, and will continue to be a main congregating place for the residents of a town, but wondered if perhaps what was needed was more of a “community center,” and less a major repository for hard cover texts.
Throughout the debate, often somewhat heated, there has been a huge swing of information, and misinformation, back and forth between the two sides, with each accusing the other of manipulating the facts. That has probably been the hardest part for me to witness. I was an early supporter of the project from the beginning, and will likely vote yes again, but I realize that there are always far more than two sides to an issue, and that the best thing often is to take into account multiple points of view, and come up with a compromise, rather than just hoping to win a vote by sheer numbers alone. Honestly, that’s one of my biggest fears, is that whether a project of this magnitude passes or fails, I feel it should be by a mandate from the community. Raising the taxes on 30,000 people, because one side had 100 more folks show up on election day seems so wrong to me…as does missing the opportunity for this great building, just because 100 fewer people showed up. Projects like this should be done by huge consensus among diverse populations, young and old, rich and poor, so that each person feels a sense of ownership in the final result. That doesn’t seem as though it will happen this time out, but only time will tell.
What’s interesting here is that it’s not a simple yes and no population, as it might be for an operational override. Rather you have many, many seniors who treasure the library, and actively support it’s expansion. At the same time, you have parents of schoolchildren, usually the first to vote yes, who cite the seeming inconsistency with funding a large project such as this, at the same time as we have yet to come to terms with a teachers contract, and class sizes are rising while our schools struggle to make due on less and less each year. They love the library, and do want to build a new one, but want to first fully fund our schools, and get class sizes to something at least manageable Proponents accurately cite the fact that the longer we wait to do something, the more expensive the library will become, and that according to their architects, fixing the existing structure will cost more than building a new one.
After multiple public hearings, the building committee was able to come up with a smaller, sleeker design, however the cost for this new building they now estimate at over $23 Million, leaving some wondering why it costs more to build smaller (the answer given to that, by the way, is that they say costs have risen over the last two years.)
On November 5th, the matter will be before the town once again, and voters will now need to decide whether or not to pass this $23 Million dollar debt exclusion bill. While some might assume that if the town turned down a larger building for less money, they would never approve this smaller building for more money, you can never be too sure. In the words of one of the proponents, when the point was raised that the voters had spoken,” the response was that “some of the voters had spoken, those who voted that day. This time, there might be different voters.” I couldn’t agree more with that statement. In the end, I think that much time and energy has been spent worrying about “changing minds,” and that really is not the critical matter at hand. Yes, there are some folks who are on the fence, many of whom have been staunch advocates for the project from the beginning, but are now having questions, yet those are few and far between. In the end, there are yes voters, and no voters…and the only question is who will show up at the polls to vote.
According to Town Manager Dan Morgado, “the Library Building Committee has released its report which finalized the budget for the project at $23.3 Million with $13.6 Million to be funded from the tax levy with the balance funded by a State grant and local donations. The cost of a comprehensive renovation is shown at $12.8 Million making the proposal to do the renovation/addition an excellent value.
LBC member Moira Miller will report on this matter at tomorrow nights meeting of the Board of Selectmen, televised, as always, byt the great folks at SPAC.”
The full report of the building committee can be viewed at http://www.shrewsbury-ma.gov/egov/docs/1381149989_972717.pdf
Having an open dialog, and respecting each others views, is what makes our town the great place it is today, so we must all remember that whether the vote is up or down, we all need to come together as a community when it’s all over.
I would love to hear from you, whether for or against the project, and will happily publish any Letters to the Editor that you wish to submit.