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Reading Library Project Cost Estimate Up Some $2.5 Million

This Town Meeting article generated heat at Tuesday's selectmen meeting.

A $2.5 million higher estimate for the Reading Public Library renovation and expansion project was one of the top items discussed at Tuesday's selectmen meeting.

The town’s estimated share of the project has risen from $7 million to just under $9.8 million. The state would provide $5.1 million – provided that the town approves its share of the costs by June. The town must do more than renovate the building to qualify for the state money, according to the town manager.

The prior cost estimate for the whole project underestimated some “soft,” non-construction costs, according to library Director Ruth Urell, including contingency funds; moving to temporary quarters for the 18-month project and storing for two-thirds of the library collection during the construction. The estimate also failed to include the cost of a new library roof. Construction costs also rose, according to a Jan. 22 design cost summary from cost consultant A.M. Fogarty and Associates, Inc., by roughly $480,000 for 2014, including a 10 percent contingency.

Spending money to improve just the building “envelope” would be “poorly spent,” Town Manager Peter Hechenbleikner said.

The town has had to spend money on the library on an emergency basis, concurred Finance Committee Chairman David Greenfield. "Significant" investment has to be made to the building, he said. It makes sense, he said, to do it all at once.

The selectmen voted 4-0 to support the library project warrant article. Selectman Stephen Goldy was absent.

While describing the project as “excellent,” Selectman James Bonazoli said he was concerned about the town’s “lack of methodology” in compiling the project costs. The additional $40 a year that the project is estimated to cost homeowners could be hard on residents on a fixed income, he said. If they sell their homes, he continued, families with children could move in, raising school enrollment.

Under the town charter, the Finance Committee must vote on a money article at least seven days prior to Town Meeting but had not yet done so, resident Bill Brown said. Both Town Counsel and Town Meeting Moderator Alan Foulds have ruled on that issue, Hechenbleikner said. If the seven-day requirement is not necessary, “we should look at a charter change,” said Bonazoli.

FinCom voted 8-0 at the selectmen’s meeting to accept the library renovation and additional warrant article.

Rob January 25, 2013 at 11:39 AM
Spending $15 million to renovate the library is insane.
joan January 25, 2013 at 12:47 PM
Where are the fiscally responsible town managers? Taxes are too high already.
Bill January 25, 2013 at 12:51 PM
Libraries are becoming (or are already) obsolete. This is a waste of taxpayer money and another money grab. Instead of justifying the state subsidization of $5M for us to spend $10M, why not return the monies in the form of property tax relief, which our Governor promised 6 years ago. And instead of ramming these wasteful projects down our throats by justifying it as "just another few cups of Starbucks coffee", try to contain your enthusiasm by taking the contrarian approach and cutting the expense line. Our local officials are just as liberal as our elected State and Federal representatives. Hopefully we will get some some Selectman that have some experience running a business to replace Shubert and Goldy.
Tom Jeffords January 25, 2013 at 01:38 PM
Have Ben Tafoya hit up his pal Deval Patrick for the extra coin.
john nowosacki January 25, 2013 at 01:46 PM
What a surprise, another gov't project is going to cost more than expected. You get the government you deserve.
RESIDENT January 25, 2013 at 02:15 PM
Town meeting should REJECT this article, due to a lot of BAD mistakes were on it and the CITIZENS of Reading are asked to go into this project BLINDFOLDED.!!!!!!!!!!
Charles January 25, 2013 at 02:17 PM
They forgot to include the roof in the numbers??? This town govt. also didn't calculate the property taxes correctly. I am sure that the Town Manager calculated his "bonus" to jack up his pension correctly.
Charles January 25, 2013 at 02:19 PM
Time to consider having a Mayor so that when they don't do there job, we can vote them out.
M January 25, 2013 at 02:58 PM
I agree that the cost seems way out of sortsfor what it is - just a renovation. It seems more akin to a new construction cost, but I'm not experienced in those things. If you look at the list that Reading is at the top of for state library $, the Mass Library construction project waiting list, at http://mblc.state.ma.us/mblc/news/releases/past-releases/2012/nr120503.php you can see what other towns are getting. The goal is for the town to provide funds matching the state aid. In actuality, Reading's state aid of $5 mil, for a town of 25K seems about in the middle, with Hatfield (population about 3300) seeking 3.2 mil and Somerville (pop about 75K) seeking 18 mil (roughly 3 x that of Reading). The closest peer to Reading is Stoughton, with a pop of 27K, seeking 6.7 mil. What this list does not indicate is whether this is for renovations or new construction. I love the library, visit it at least 2x a week, but to me it seems very adequate in providing services. I can always find a parking spot in lot or on nearby streets, can always find a place to sit, can usually find a terminal to work at or a place to plug in my laptop. Noblenet enables me to get virtually any book/DVD I want from not just the Noblenet network, but, via certain mechanisms, anywhere in state, including Boston. Have never seen roof leaking, etc., library is plenty warm in winter & cool in summer. What is the big problem with our library that it requires such a major renovation?
Nancy January 25, 2013 at 03:12 PM
M you said it best. The value of the library is in the Noble network. I can't think of anything wrong with the building that would require a renovation. How are they justifying the renovation?
Rob January 25, 2013 at 03:53 PM
We should build something like Evander Holyfield's house. I think it cost less than $15 million - http://www.therealestatebloggers.com/images/evander_holyfields_mansion-2.jpg
Suzanne M. Bent January 25, 2013 at 08:43 PM
First you tell us that assessor made a 2 million dollar error so our taxes our property taxes are going up then you tell us an error was made so the cost for library increase! Who is working on these figures! If I made these kind of mistakes in my budget, I would have been living on the streets years ago! Keep this up and you will be forcing your older homeowners out of their homes and your school expenses will go through the roof because all you will have in this town is school age families. As it is now, many older home owners are struggling in this town! Sue
Charles January 26, 2013 at 04:07 AM
Only in town govt. can people who make these massive mistakes get a raise every year and a 80% pension.
JeffW January 26, 2013 at 07:28 AM
A detailed explanation of the proposed repairs and improvements can be found in this PDF, posted on the library's website: http://www.readingpl.org/wp-content/uploads/Background-for-Warrant-Article-Oct-2012.pdf
Rob January 26, 2013 at 11:14 AM
JeffW - could you point out what you would consider a required renovation? I read the document and it seems like all are nice-to-haves, but nothing that could justify spending $15 Million. Aside from fixing the roof (which was apparently left out of the original estimate), the only justification was that things are "inefficient". I didn't see an estimated cost savings for making things more efficient.
Marina Salenikas January 26, 2013 at 06:18 PM
I don't know where "Bill" is getting his information that libraries are "becoming or are obsolete". I've been a librarian for decades and the library that I'm presently working at is busier now than ever before. So many people are out of jobs and need to be at a computer in order to look for jobs, work on their resume and then apply for jobs. Most applications require resumes in the form of an email, they won't even consider a hardcopy. Many towns are laying of their school librarians which means that the children's room librarian is busier than ever. So not only do you have your facts wrong, Bill, I think you need to do a bit more research in order for people to take your comments seriously. The Reading Public Library consistently gets award for their stellar programming and offerings to their public. You should be proud to be able to have a card from the Reading Public Library. Have you even been to the library lately to see what they have to offer or do you just go to Barnes and Nobles when you need a book. I cannot imagine too many people agreeing with the assessment that putting $$ into the public library is a waste of taxpayers dollars.
Bill January 26, 2013 at 07:22 PM
Marina, I appreciate you protecting your "turf" being a library employee, but your argument is very superficial and self serving. I understand how hard it is to have your job threatened by advances in technology and other radical ideas brought on by market forces and capitalism, which is why government operates so inefficiently. My litmus test would be this...if you charged people $2 to enter the library, would it survive on it's own? I think you know the answer to that. We can't expect taxpayers to continue to subsidize every pet project, which is why there is such division in our current political climate. Local, State and Federal Government are involved in things that are unconstitutional. Nowhere is it written that we the people are required to provide a free library for people to use to do their resumes. I also have a hard time believing that most people don't have access to a computer and rely on the library to provide that for them. Reading schools are now using their libraries to teach my children computer skills, not the Dewey Decimal system. They are literally "forced" to take books out of the library. Next year's curriculum will do away with "writing" and be replaced with more computer skills training. I am sure you are one of the people fighting to save cursive. I know it bothers you to fight these harsh realities of the 21st century, but I am sure the horse and buggy manufacturers tried to convince people that cars were bad.
Bill January 26, 2013 at 07:25 PM
I should also add, I would support demolishing the existing structure and replacing it with a more modern, energy efficient and limited space facility. I think a builder in town could do that for about $3M...far less than the artificially inflated quotes that the town has received.
M January 26, 2013 at 08:56 PM
Rather than think about the library as a $2 per admission charge, I think the better analogy might be something like Amazon prime - Amazon prime. For $79 a year, you get unlimited streaming of a certain set of a few thousand movies, one free kindle book borrow a month, free 2day shipping. Here, for nothing (at present) other than your existing taxes, you get unlimited borrowings of books and movies from a selection of hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions, if you count noblenet) of books and certainly at least thousands of movies. Plus free use of library and its computer facilities, free programs, story hours, book clubs, etc. Is that worth $150 a year? Many would say yes, but maybe not ON TOP of our existing, very very high property taxes. There must be a happy medium of "fix it first" - notwithstanding the town manager's statement that we can't just fix the shell of the library....why can't we? We need a comparison of a "keep the status quo and fix what MUST be repaired" vs "expand to be the ultimate library of future", I find it hard to believe we can't rewire the existing library to include cameras to "monitor the dark corners" (as the library report states), upgrade the electrical for more outlets, etc. Plus fix the roof, new windows, etc.
Ron Powell January 26, 2013 at 09:11 PM
Bill, I'm afraid that Marina is right to a degree. Public libraries do continue to provide a valuable resource to the underemployed and unemployed, and this particular library offers quite a few community outreach programs. The most comprehensive research on the importance of public libraries -- the US Impact Public Library Study -- has found that the public libraries of the nation are still relevant to (as of 2010), and within all socio-economic groups and in all regions of the country. I strongly support the mission and charter of the Reading Public Library, and my family uses it at least once as month. Having stated that, I am a bit troubled by the cost of this particular renovation project. $15 million dollars seems out of line with cohort renovation projects.
Geo January 26, 2013 at 09:52 PM
With the Feds increasing the FICA tax and more to follow, and the State getting ready to increase taxes, we are in no position to do the same. Lets be fiscally responsible here. Life safety (police, fire), essential operations to run the town are what we should focus on and maintain. The "nice to have" items need to be shelved for the foreseeable future. The library project is one of those "nice to have" items,
sonny January 27, 2013 at 02:21 AM
I go to the library almost every week. I never have trouble finding parking, its not crowded, I am able to find what I need, there are staff available if I have a need or question. Reading the report, I think that a new roof, windows, masonary repair etc could be done at a cost of much less than 15 million. I can live with repairs and dealing with the other issues mentioned.

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