By Dan Miller, Contributing Writer
WESTBOROUGH – An updated cost estimate is needed to see how much Westborough will have to pay for long-awaited improvements to its public library.
The current $24 million price tag is based on a 2016 estimate, library director Maureen Amyot told the Select Board Dec. 14.
“We know it’s going to go up,” Amyot said, referring to increases in construction costs since 2016.
Patrons ask for renovations
Amyot gave the board a detailed presentation of the improvement project, which patrons have been asking for since before she assumed her current role in 2010.
A strategic plan completed for the library in 2012 concluded the 20,000-square-foot, now 114-year-old structure was too small to meet current needs.
The library has deferred much-needed projects – like replacing the 41-year-old elevator with a 25-year life span – in hopes of getting a grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners to help pay for the work.
The library did already win a $9.48 million grant in 2017. But it was told that funds would not be available for at least three years because of applications from other towns that were ahead of Westborough, Amyot told the board. Then last year, the state delayed all grants due to the fact that libraries across Massachusetts were holding off projects because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The state is now ready to award the funds to Westborough in July 2022, Amyot said.
Beyond the $9.48 million grant, the Westborough Public Library Foundation has committed to raising $1 million. The library board of trustees will commit trust funds as well — leaving an approximate cost to the town of $13.02 million based on the 2016 estimate.
Town awaits new cost estimate
Amyot said that, according to architects, it will take six to eight months to obtain another cost estimate to update that 2016 figure.
Select Board members offered their thoughts on Dec. 14.
“I’m scared that that number could be astronomically higher [than the 2016 cost estimate],” Select Board member Ian Johnson said.
Amyot said library improvement projects in Grafton and Marlborough both factored in a 5 percent increase in their planning processes. Both, she said, are “still within that,” giving her reason for optimism that the cost increase for the Westborough library will be in the 5 percent range.
Planning process rejects alternative library locations
The state grant award is based on the library’s preferred option of renovating the current structure to add an additional 16,500 square feet.
Amyot noted the library had considered new construction at a new location, which would be less expensive than renovating the existing structure.
Two options were considered, including options to build a new library near the Westborough Senior Center or at the site of the old Westborough State Hospital along Hospital Road.
Both options were rejected, however, based on feedback from patrons in focus groups and surveys, which said the new locations would be too far away from downtown. Those stakeholders said those locations would “reduce or eliminate” opportunities for patrons to walk to the library as they can now, Amyot said.
Select Board chair calls on state to increase grant award
Select Board chair Allen Edinberg urged Amyot to come up with a new cost estimate as soon as possible so that the town can prepare, given a tight time schedule for grant approval in 2022.
He also said the state Library Council should increase the amount of the money awarded to Westborough, as the state’s decision to delay providing funds for a year due to the pandemic will result in higher construction costs for the project.
Amyot said she will ask the Library Council to consider such a request, adding that she doubts the state can increase the grant award because of other library projects that must be funded and because the Library Council has a fixed amount of proceeds from construction bonds available to spend.
In the meantime, the library must find a temporary location to operate out of while renovations are underway. The library hopes this temporary site can be in the downtown area, but no site has been identified yet, Amyot told the board.
The library will move to the temporary site by fall of 2023 if all goes to plan. Construction will then take about two years until the newly expanded library is available for the community in 2025.