By Joan Goodchild, Community Reporter
Shrewsbury – At a Special Town Meeting (STM) held Sept. 26, Shrewsbury Town Meeting members approved a motion that will appropriate funding for the construction, renovation and expansion of the town's public library. The decision is now in the hands of the voters, who, in a special election Tuesday, Oct. 18, must approve the debt exclusion of nearly $11 million if the project is to ultimately go forth.
At the STM, members heard from supporters and those opposed to the proposed $18.7 million renovation project for the aging library. Plans include maintaining a section of the building constructed in 1903 and replacing an addition built in 1979, as well as adding on to the current building by using adjacent property the town purchased earlier this year from the Shrewsbury Federal Credit Union.
The project has been on a roller-coaster ride in recent months. Library trustees got word in August that the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners would be funding a $7.96 million grant to cover a portion of the project by July 2014 at the latest. That news was a welcome surprise because just a few weeks prior, the officials were informed that while Shrewsbury's construction grant application was approved by the state, it had been placed on a waiting list along with 15 other communities in the commonwealth.
The vote to approve the funds came after several presentations from citizens both for and against the proposal. Chris Kirk and Brian Austin, representing the group “Shrewsbury for Responsible Taxation,” said current economic conditions made the project a high risk and that an assurance of grant money from the state was not a guarantee and may actually not even be forthcoming if the country's debt crisis continues to worsen.
Another dissenter, former Selectman Benjamin Tartaglia, brought forth a detailed presentation that suggested an alternate, smaller project that would use existing space in a different way than the renovation plans propose. He also argued taxpayers could simply not afford the expense of the new library as it is proposed.
Those in support of the project said construction costs are lower than ever now, and proceeding sooner rather than later would mean less expensive building costs.
“I’m confident in this town's ability to build smart and responsibly,” said John Samia, a Shrewsbury School Committee member. Samia noted the current project to build a new Sherwood Middle School was coming in under budget and that it was a testimony to the town's fiscal responsibility.
“I stood there in 1978, and listened to substantial opposition when we were going to build an addition then,” said Kevin Byrne, a longtime Shrewsbury town moderator and now a Town Meeting member. “It was the same argument; the economy wasn’t that good at the time. I listened to the same argument about the Floral School, about the Fire Station, about the Senior Center. There will always be opposition and people who in good faith think we shouldn’t be doing things.”
The motion ultimately passed, by a majority voice vote.