Now it’s time for voters to decide whether they want to spend almost $9.8 million to renovate and enlarge the Reading Public Library.
Town Meeting voted 131-15 Monday night to place the library proposal on the April town election ballot.
The cost of the whole project is estimated at $14.9 million. The town would receive $5.1 million from the state for the project, if voters approve paying for the town share by the state’s deadline, this coming June. The special Town Meeting convened to meet that deadline.
The renovation and addition would cost the owner of an average home in Reading just under $150 -- $149 a year for 10 years in a debt exclusion, an amount of money included in property tax bills for a specific project and a fixed length of time.
Proponents urged that the library be updated and expanded by some 7,500 square feet as one project, rather than repaired piecemeal, as problems occur. The grant requires that the town use the grant money to meet future library needs.
Several Town Meeting members questioned the $14.9 million cost estimate. The Tuesday before Town Meeting, library officials told the Board of Selectmen that the cost of the town’s share of the project had risen by some $2.5 million, from $7 million to $9.8 million. Among the reasons: revised costs for construction and part of the library roof, for temporary library space during the 18-month project, moving and a higher contingency fee.
One non-Town Meeting member raised another concern Monday night. Library neighbors oppose the proposed addition on the east side of the 30,000-square-foot building, School Street resident Bert Almeida told Town Meeting. Neighbors use the grassy hill there as a mini-park, he said.
Library Board of Trustees Chairman David Hutchinson implored Town Meeting to approve the library warrant article.
“Reading residents expect more from their library,” the public face of the community, he said, than a 100-plus-year-old building constructed as an elementary school that’s both outgrowing its space, particularly its public areas, and needs physical updating.
Hutchinson suggested that fundraising might offset some library project costs.
Finance Committee Chairman David Greenfield also spoke in support of the article.
There is no room in the town budget, Greenfield said, to fix library building problems. Anticipating that federal grant money will tighten, take the state grant now, he said, and do the whole library project at once.
The project would cost property owners money in a debt exclusion, Greenfield said, but it will also add, he said, to their real estate values.
The library is the hub of the community for residents of many ages, speakers said, and an asset that draws residents to town.
Financially, the town is considering several other projects with an impact on taxpayers, several speakers pointed out, including finding space for full-day kindergarten, work at the Killam Elementary school, more downtown improvements and water pipe work.
Let town voters – and taxpayers – prioritize all the projects, several Town Meeting members said.
A 10-member library building committee should be formed, Town Manager Peter Hechenbleikner suggested, to succeed a committee whose tenure has expired, to oversee the library project. He recommended that the committee comprise two members of the library Board of Trustees; two library staff members; two Town Meeting members; two town residents with experience in project design or construction; and one member each from the town’s Finance Committee and Historical Commission.
Time-wise, Hechenbleikner said he hoped a bid would be awarded for the project by this time next year.