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Reading Town Meeting Sends Public Library Project Proposal to Voters

Project to cost an estimated $9.8 million in local funds.

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.

John January 30, 2013 at 12:33 PM
Where does Karl and the RRTC stand on this issue? That will be a rather large determining factor in deciding which way to vote on this issue. Thank goodness the billboard issue has been tabled.
Charles January 30, 2013 at 01:23 PM
Peter H. suggested a committee - shocking. That is public employees play #1. Always have committees so that nobody is to blame. Think of how much money that town has spent of "studies" & "consultants"?
Dave Miskinis January 30, 2013 at 01:31 PM
Am I reading this correclty that the town does not have a library building committee or that the current one has tenured-out? How can that be???? Look at the high school fiasco in N. Reading, where they have a committe AND state oversight. Library project costs are already up 21% (the town's share up 36%!) a year before we award a bid!!!. Fundraising as an option? How many brownies would have to be sold to cover this?? How important is the library to the town that "There is no room in the town budget to fix library building problems?" Where has the outcry been over this? All of a sudden, when things are getting out of control, the library - in it's charming, dilapitated state, is attracting people to buy homes here? PLEASE!!!
True Blue January 30, 2013 at 01:49 PM
So let me get this straight; my federal taxes just went up 2%, the governer is proposing to hike in state taxes, and now local taxes will be going up via a debit exclusion at a minimum of $150/year and that isn't including other proposed tax increases for full-day kindergarten, work at the Killam Elementary school, more downtown improvements and water pipe work? So much for the recovery. The fact that the town's share has already risen by over 25% in a short amount of time should be a major red flag.
Jean January 30, 2013 at 01:54 PM
I'd be interested in seeing the data that supports the statement that the library has an impact on choosing to buy a home in Reading or that it impacts the value of my home. I like the library but the number of large projects we need to assess as a community including kindergarten, elementary schools and water pipe work need to be prioritized. We can't afford them all.
Dave Miskinis January 30, 2013 at 02:01 PM
Let's start a pool and guess what the eventual cost of this project will be....for fun. I will copy all of the entries and save them until that time, that we know the final tally. I'll go first. $19,750,000.
Dave Miskinis January 30, 2013 at 02:04 PM
Jean, if you took a poll, you would find as many people who appreciate the library, in i'ts current condition, as you would those who would like a new, refurbished, expanded library. You would find twice as many who have never stepped foot in the library and could care less about this, except for the tax increase aspect. It does not measurably effect our property values and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
Dave Miskinis January 30, 2013 at 02:09 PM
Maybe we should have two pools....one that guesses the cost at the time the bid is awarded and the second for the final project cost. Ok, my entry is $15,500,000 at time of bid (not enought to enrage taxpayers but just enough that the project wouldn't be cancelled) and $19,750,000 final cost.
Brandon Chapman January 30, 2013 at 03:50 PM
I know several Town Meeting members felt the same way I did. I'm not comfortable with the proposal and I plan to oppose the debt exclusion, however I've heard mixed opinions from my neighbors. I voted for moving this proposal forward because I feel that the voters in the town as a whole should make the ultimate decision.
Gail January 30, 2013 at 03:51 PM
Added to all of that are the increased health care Costs under Obamacare. Not everyone in this town makes 80,000.00 per household Stick to the budget as it was approved by the voters
sonny January 30, 2013 at 03:59 PM
My vote will be no. I use the library quite frequently and have no complaints. I agree with what has been said.....it would be nice but we can't afford it. Why are we even considering spending that type of money when every year I get a list from each teacher a mile long of things parents need to provide to the classroom.
Danielle Masterson (Editor) January 30, 2013 at 04:33 PM
How is the Reading Public Library's accreditation status? I know that sometimes libraries look to retain certification and need to embark on projects to do so.
Bill January 30, 2013 at 04:54 PM
Sonny...couldn't agree more! I took that position after The Patch article was posted and alerted the masses to what was going on. The little fiefdom on Lowell St likes to cover things up hoping nobody will notice until it's too late (see: MWRA negotiations circa 2007). The train had left the station on that until people got their water bills and finally smartened up, but it was too late. We should have floated a 30 year bond for $25M and managed our own supply and rates like RMLD. PH has a job waiting for him in "retirement" at the MWRA when he is finished as our Town Manager...imagine that. I also relate to your story about the constant flow of requests from the teachers for basic necessities and school supplies like No. 2 pencils. I would love to know where the $20K fine from the Macaroni Grill shakedown (um, failed health inspection) went. Why not allocate those monies right back to the school for these needed supplies.
Bill January 30, 2013 at 04:55 PM
PAGE 2. As for the fundraiser idea (which should be considered an embarrassment for Hutchinson to even suggest it), I would say, when you raise the $10M required through the sale of brownies and cakes to subsidize the town's share, then let's talk. All of the people (liberal minority) that seem to support this idea should be the first to step up and donate generously! Open your eyes sheeple, don't you see what they are doing to you!! This is a huge money grab...Greenfield says "take the State grant now"...WHY?? Can't you just say thanks for the offer, but we can't afford it right now?? Of course you can't, you are one of the pigs at the trough - the trough filled with taxpayer money. You can't stand to sit idly by and watch it do nothing. You MUST find a way to use it on "infrastructure" projects. As I suggested earlier, I am completely supportive of a new facility, but with technological advances and the obsolescence of many of these institutions, it requires a different mentality...but when your town officials have blinders on, and tough to see what's going on around you.
Bill January 30, 2013 at 04:55 PM
PAGE 3. Why not set a new path of fiscal discipline in this state and be a role model that might be used by surrounding towns and municipalities who face the same challenge. 1. Forget the State funds 2. Create a plan to raze and rebuild a smaller, more energy efficient facility that meets the needs of todays culture and tomorrow's demands 3. Put that debt exclusion to a town vote. You will probably have more supporters of a $3-4M project. Nobody I know ever moved to Reading (or any town) because of the library, and no library I know of has ever had any direct correlation to, or influence on, property values....wait, if my property value goes up, won't my taxes go up as well???
tbone January 30, 2013 at 08:41 PM
Bill you are correct on a number of different fronts. I don't see the value of the library reconstruction for the price tag. Grant or no grant we should be working on a dedicated kindergarten facility. Home values would rise if we built a state of the art kindergarten facility. Print and media has been replaced with kindles, YouTube, iphones,ipads. If you look at all the large national magazine and newspapers, they are all laying off or on the brink of chap 11. Advertising industry is dying by the wayside. Online is ruling the day. Rehabbing the existing library and not addressing the all day kindergarten issu e is just foolish.
M January 30, 2013 at 11:01 PM
1st, library construction report says library building is "structurally sound" - since not going to fall onto patrons heads, is not "must" to repair. 2nd- don't think it's important to most patrons that library have more & bigger public meeting spaces (part of new construction) - that is small library function that could easily be filled by other public bldgs in Reading (e.g., Sr center, town hall) at far lower cost. 3rd -would like to see cost breakdown showing the cost of addition vs cost to bring this old, but stable/safe bldg up to "modern" bldg code std. Because this is public project getting public $, must ENTIRE bldg must be brought to "newer" bldg code? Maybe that is driving cost. Can someone with public construction or even just construction experience fill me in? When one renovates just part of a home or puts on an addition, entire home is not req'd to be brought up to the latest bldg codes, unless violation is clearly unsafe (e.g., unsafe wiring, no smoke detectors, etc), is it?. Library project seems to be do it while the public $ is being dangled, but it's gonna cost us a lot more. It's like my family room couch - it's old, sort of out of style, but clean & usable. I can put a just new slipcover on it, or I can "add" to it with a new furniture set from Jordans (which comes with a free TV (like the public $), though the new furniture set will mean I'll have to pay to change rest of family room decor, to bring it up to the latest style.
Charles January 31, 2013 at 02:34 AM
Accreditation is a scam. If the library does not get credited what is going to happen. Are the books going to disappear? Are the librarians going to quit and nobody will take there positions. Are real estate values going to tank?
M January 31, 2013 at 03:15 AM
Charles - if the library lacks accreditation, its patrons will not be able to participate in networks like the Noblenet network. I think that happened to Saugus library a few years ago. That being said, to my knowledge this project has nothing to do with retaining certification. I honestly think it expanded and expanded because the matching money was there, but to get the matching $$ we have to do a certain level of new work. If we merely selectively upgraded parts of it, fixed the roof, etc., we would not get the state matching funds. Nonetheless, if it is not required by law, with these tight budgets and increasing taxes all around, we should not be doing it. Making Killam be ADA compliant - required by law. A library with a new "green" roof, a more symmetrical appearance, reading room with "antique fireplace" and cafe area, teen room with lounge and cafe seating - not required by law. Here are the highlights of the library project (http://www.readingpl.org/wp-content/uploads/bldghandout.pdf). A true mix of the necessary (fire exit improvements) and the luxury (art gallery in hallway, smart boards, etc.). As Iook at the list of features on that link, I wonder what the "bare bones" cost is to JUST the "safety & security" list. The rest is all "nice" to have, but save it for when we don't also have to pay for school & sewer renovation. Save for when high school is paid for.
Kendrick See January 31, 2013 at 08:13 AM
I'd like to see a comparison of the past operating costs vs. the upgrades. The large meeting room may offset any savings from the insulation and new windows.
Geo January 31, 2013 at 03:05 PM
This is not the time to increase more taxes on us. I will vote NO, and I will encourage as many people to do the same. If people don't want to move into Reading because of the library, oh well,see ya..... And if they move out because of the library, nice knowing you...
True Blue January 31, 2013 at 04:25 PM
I agree, vote "no" on this one and put the monies to a full-day town wide kindergarten facility. Frankly, I think the Reading library is already one of the nicer ones around.
Dave Miskinis January 31, 2013 at 04:37 PM
"Mobile information service station to provide staffing where needed"...how big will this library be? When I need help, I always go the the help desk. It's not that far, no matter where I am in the library.
Dave Miskinis January 31, 2013 at 04:38 PM
"Rooftop outdoor program space"....What does this mean? Rooftop events? Cocktail parties on the roof? What????
Dave Miskinis January 31, 2013 at 04:40 PM
"Provide safe pedestrian and bicycle/wheelchair/stroller access"...We are lucky to currently have wheelchair access. I see many people using it. I didn't know it was unsafe.
Dave Miskinis January 31, 2013 at 04:41 PM
"Art gallery in new hallway"......Whaaaaaat??? Whose benefit would this be for? Could we all display our own art in the gallery or would it be open to a few?
Dave Miskinis January 31, 2013 at 04:43 PM
"Reading room with antique fireplace, small café area, soft armchairs".....Whaaaaaaaaaaat? Does the library already have permitting for a cafe? I just don't understand how you can have a fireplace - of any kind - in a library?
Dave Miskinis January 31, 2013 at 04:45 PM
"Quiet rooms for reading"....Isn't this already a library. Aren't libraries, by definition - supposed to be quiet?
Dave Miskinis January 31, 2013 at 04:48 PM
I love the current library and I use it often. It just seems to me that this is going to be much more than that we need. It seems to me that we just can't afford this. I would encourage everyone who did not follow the link provided by "M" above to do so.

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