Shrewsbury Library project grapples with issues of budget, technology
By Lindsey O’Donnell, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – With just a few weeks to go before the town’s voters decide whether to move forward with a $23.3 million appropriation for the renovation and expansion of the Shrewsbury Public Library, dissidents and advocates of the project are raising key issues and concerns about the project’s budget.
A Special Town Meeting will be held Monday, Oct. 21, followed by a Special Election Tuesday, Nov. 5, asking voters to approve a Proposition 2 ½ debt exclusion specifically to raise and appropriate funds for the library project.
According to a report submitted by the Library Building Committee Oct. 7, the total is more than $3 million less than previously estimated. Funding for the project would be in three parts: a grant of nearly $8 million (34.16%), private fundraising totaling $1.75 million (7.51%), and the taxpayers’ portion of $13.6 million (58.33%).
The proposed expansion, which is estimated to cost taxpayers $800,000 more than a straight renovation, will increase the library’s area to incorporate changes to make the new building accessible. Without the expansion, however, the town is not eligible for grant funding.
Also contributing to the cost is the committee’s recommendation to carry out the project via an alternate method than the traditional design-bid-build model (Chapter 149). Under the new model, Chapter 149a, construction management services are used prior to awarding a contract to reduce the risk of unforeseen problems and additional costs.
“While this adds some cost to the project, the end product justifies the additional expense,” Town Manager Daniel Morgado said. He cited the Sherwood Middle School project as an example of using this alternate method to an excellent result. He also pointed to the recent middle/high school project in Sutton, built under Chapter 149, which has been plagued with delays and problems with its lowest-bidding general contractor.
The renovations for the library, built in 1903, would create a more efficient space for the public and staff, according to Library Director Ellen Dolan, a member of the Library Building Committee.
“We would like to increase the size of the library … because it doesn’t meet our needs now, in 2013,” said Dolan. “Thirty years ago, for example, we didn’t have computers. A renovation will give us a place for computer classes. As the world changes we will be able to change with it.”
The new library plan proposes 44 new computers, as opposed to the current building’s 13 computers, and would be 38,600 total square feet as opposed to the existing 25,500. The project also plans aim to increase the number of parking spaces and expand seating options.
Dolan stressed that the funds for the library project would take place outside of the operating budget, meaning that no municipal department budgets would be affected.
While some Shrewsbury residents see changes to the library as mandatory, others see a new library as both expensive and obsolete.
Brian Austin, of the Committee for a Smaller Library, doesn’t see a library as fully beneficial to the community for the price it would cost. His main reasons revolve around the changes that technology has had on print books and libraries.
“Nowadays, electronic books are the major form of book distribution. Everybody has an iPad. It’s just where technology is going,” said Austin. “And in a time of electronic books, this new library project is just way too expensive.”
According to Austin, officials should take an $8 million grant from the state and scale the final project cost back to $18 million or less. “The cost of the site is egregious. We’re 100 percent behind a reasonable, small library project,” said Austin.
In January 2011, a town meeting approved a $19.2 million project to expand the library by 40,000 square feet. However, voters subsequently rejected the project in a special election.
Shrewsbury has until Dec. 31 to agree to fund the project and receive the $8 million grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners. The town has already borrowed $680,000 to buy property to use for the project.
The Special Town Meeting will be held Monday, Oct. 21, at 7 p.m. in the Oak Middle School auditorium, 45 Oak St.
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