Finally, Reading officials received the word they’d been hoping for: the state has awarded the town $5.1 million toward a $12 million public library "gut" renovation and 8,000-square-foot addition project.
Library Director Ruth Urell laid out the details Wednesday night at a town financial forum. The forum brings together the Finance Committee, Board of Selectmen, School Committee and library Board of Trustees to discuss town finances.
"Major structural repairs and substantial renovations are required," according to a handout about the library project, "to comply with current building codes."
Library trustees commissioned a study in 2010 to determine library needs "in the light of steady growth in service and multiplying facility deficiencies," the handout states.
The roof leaks, Urell said. The windows need to be repaired. "(T)he basement sometimes floods and is often damp" and the "HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning), lighting and work spaces are inefficient and outdated."
"We knew we had to do something," Urell said.
Since the library moved into the former, 116-year-old Highland School 28 years ago, "community use of the library has more than doubled."
The grant application was filed in January of 2011, Urell said. Reading was placed second on a wait list for a grant pending state capital funding in July 2011. Then Reading moved into first place on the wait list and pressed for the money.
Between Jan. 2 and Feb. 11 of 2013, a special town meeting will be held, according to the project schedule, to approve a debt exclusion to pay for the town’s portion of the project.
The cost, Town Manager Peter Hechenbleikner said, for an average homeowner, would be $100 a year for 10 years.
The debt exclusion question would then go to voters at the town election on April 2, 2013.
Both votes must occur within 90 days, Hechenbleikner said. A special Town Meeting would be cheaper, he said, than a special election.
If the money was approved, construction would begin in the fall or winter of 2013. It would be completed 18 months later, in the spring or summer of 2015.
During construction, the library would be relocated.
Killam School, Elementary Space Projects Likely to Require Debt Exclusions
Two other projects would probably also require debt exclusions: the Killam School project and more elementary school space.
The amount of money invested in the Killam’s roof means that the school must be made handicapped-accessible, school Assistant Superintendent for Finance Mary DeLai told the forum. That includes installing fire-suppressing sprinklers, she said. The total cost: $5 million. The town could be reimbursed 47 percent, or around $2.5 million, from the state.
School officials submitted a statement of interest to the Massachusetts School Building Authority to start the process with the state agency a year ago, DeLai said. The MSBA has not yet reviewed it.
The town would raise its share of the cost, Hechenbleikner said, through debt exclusion.
The other project concerns space needs in the town’s five elementary schools, especially since the School Committee hopes to offer tuition-free full day kindergarten to all Reading Public School students at some time in the future.
School Supt. John Doherty recommended that the School Committee refrain from starting full day kindergarten until after the 2013-14 school year.
The School Committee voted Wednesday night to table the formation of a building committee to examine elementary school space options.
"We don't need" a committee to be formed at this time, committee Chairman Karen Janowski told Patch.
The committee voted this past summer to direct school administrators to begin the process of implementing free, full day kindergarten.
The elementary schools are already tight on space, with current, optional tuition-based full day kindergarten, school administrators have said.
Doherty presented five space options, which were presented at School Committee meetings over the summer: place one modular classroom at each elementary school; build classrooms at Barrows, Birch Meadow and Joshua Eaton; rent space short term; buy and renovate an existing building; or build a new pre-kindergarten and kindergarten space.
Costs range from $1.1 million per portable to rent for three years or buy for each school, according to the presentation, to $21 million to $32 million to build a new pre-kindergarten and kindergarten building.
There’s another possible project in the expense pipeline: replacing old, unlined water pipes in town to help improve water quality in the northern part of town. The selectmen heard a presentation by water system consultants this past Tuesday night. The water is safe, they said, but its level of disinfectant drops seasonally, partly because of those pipes.