State defers libraries’ grants
Four on wait list, one told to reapply
Five libraries west of Boston that applied for state library grants to replace or renovate their aging, inadequate buildings have been passed over for immediate funding that would have covered up to half of construction costs.
Hopkinton, Belmont, Shrewsbury, and Framingham’s McAuliffe Branch Library were relegated to a wait list while Sherborn was told it needs to revise and resubmit its application by January.
Some library officials put a positive spin on a situation that will likely mean increased construction costs as the downturned economy picks up, saying the wait will give them more time to raise private funds.
“Even though we’re on the waiting list, we feel like it’s a green light for us. It’s just a matter of timing,” said Marie Eldridge, a Hopkinton Public Library trustee. “It could actually work to our advantage because it would allow the economy to improve and allow us to do fund-raising.”
The Hopkinton Public Library got its last renovation in 1967, when there were 5,659 residents. Since then, the town’s population has almost tripled to 15,548, according to 2010 Census numbers. The library, meanwhile, has 5,763 square feet, only 37 seats, and no place to accommodate children’s programs.
“The need is apparent,” said Eldridge. Hopkinton is planning to build a new $10.5 million 25,500-square-foot library on the current lot as well, as an adjacent lot acquired in 2001.
Hopkinton is number 14 on a wait list of 15 libraries, and will get $4.5 million when its turn arrives. But it could be a long wait.
“They are definitely going to get the money at some point,” said Celeste Bruno, spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, the state agency that awards the grants.
She said that the agency should get to the midpoint of the waiting list by 2015. Then, the agency will have to ask the Legislature and governor for more money to finish off the list.
Of the eight towns awarded $27.4 million, six were in Central or Western Massachusetts: Athol, Grafton, Granby, Shutesbury, South Hadley, and West Springfield. Everett’s branch library and West Tisbury on Martha’s Vineyard also got grants.
Twenty eight libraries applied, said Bruno.
For communities wait-listed, the passing years could mean big cost increases, and a harder sell to taxpayers who will have to approve overrides to fund the remaining construction costs.
The Belmont Public Library faces the shortest wait, since it’s at number 3.
But library officials estimate a one-year delay for its proposed 45,500-square-foot building will cost an additional $378,732 and a two-year delay will cost $898,858 on top of the estimated $12.6 million project.
However, the wait is good news to Belmont library officials.
“We were actually very delighted that we were put on the wait list. . . . The town wasn’t ready and neither were we,” said Maureen Conners, the library’s director.
The issue, she said, is that Belmont’s new library will be built on a school-owned site that now houses a sports field. Before the school will transfer the property to the town, the town has to find a new field site.
If Belmont had gotten the grant, the library and town would have had to scramble and possibly ask the state for an extension, said Conners.
“There’s a lot of things that still need to happen for us,” she said. “The fact that we’re number 3 on the waitlist will get us enough time to work this through.”
In Framingham, number 6 on the waiting list, library trustees have been pushing for a new 17,000-square-foot building to replace the 5,800-square-foot McAuliffe Branch Library, which is the second-busiest branch library in Massachusetts, according to state statistics.
“The schedule is not what we had hoped,” said Ruth Winnett, chairwoman of the library system’s Board of Trustees. “We think we’re likely to receive grant money in a couple of years. In the meantime, we are not missing a beat. We are continuing our efforts of enhancing the main library.”
Winnett said more than $200,000 has been raised from private sources to fund the new library, although some pledges are contingent upon receipt of the grant.
“This will allow us to raise more funds,” she said.
The wait will also mean a more expensive project, although it gives the town - which has been in dire straits financially - time to recover economically, and perhaps make an override more palatable to voters.
In 2005, Town Meeting rejected by seven votes paying out $4 million toward a new McAuliffe Branch Library.
At the time, the library had a state library grant, but it covered only 25 percent of building costs.
This time, the library is slated to get $4.2 million from the state toward the $7.5 million project.
Shrewsbury, at number 8, is at the list’s midpoint.
Since 1998, the town has known it needs a library almost double its size to serve residents. Now, the town is planning a $19.2 million library, with $8 million slated to come from the state grant.
“Of course, we were disappointed with our place on the list but we believe the people higher up on the list had a greater need,” said Clay Smook, chairman of the library’s building committee. “What we’re going to do in Shrewsbury is go to the library trustees and the selectman to figure out what our next step should be - to proceed with the design or wait for the funding to come through.”
In Sherborn, efforts to overhaul the 16,500-square-foot library and add a children’s wing are at a standstill after the state asked the library to resubmit its application.
“We’re really in a holding pattern,” said Stacey Brandon, chairwoman of the library’s Board of Trustees. “We don’t have any idea what’s going on with our proposal except that we have to resubmit by January. We have a meeting [with the library agency] within the next few weeks.”
Brandon said library officials are “definitely hopeful” about the project moving forward.
“We’re planning to be on the waiting list,” she said.
Megan McKee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.