Westborough library project fails 2/3 vote

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Westborough library project fails 2/3 vote
Plans to update the Westborough Public Library were on display during the Open House on Sept. 9. (Photo/Maureen Sullivan)

WESTBOROUGH – The latest chapter on the library renovation project has closed – for now.

Article 15, which would have appropriated $36,698,556 to fund the project, failed to gain the 2/3 vote necessary to pass.

The vote was 327 to approve the article, 171 against.

According to Town Moderator John Arnold, the article failed by 15 votes.

Before Town Meeting, Library Director Maureen Amyot said that if the project failed to get Town Meeting approval, the building committee and Library Trustees will regroup and figure out a plan moving forward. While she may not be sure the plan would be, she said it would include “an expensive repair project that yields no additional program space or service improvements for residents.”

The cost to perform major repairs would be around $19 million.

The $9.4 million awarded to Westborough by the Mass. Library Building Commission will be awarded to the next community on the waiting list. Amyot said there is no future construction grant round planned.

The grant would not cover the repairs.

At Town Meeting, Amyot and Mary Johnston of the Library Board of Trustees presented some of what the library has to offer, from notary services to lectures and teen programs.

“We’re a social and education hub,” said Amyot. “Public is our middle name, and everyone is welcome.”

Amyot also made several points on the question “why now.” She noted that Westborough’s population has increased 57% since 1980, which was the last time the library was renovated.

Amyot said the electrical systems are inadequate, and there are few places to plug in a phone or computer.

Additionally, the slate roof is now 114 years old, with cracked or missing tiles, and the single-pane windows need replacement.

Amyot acknowledged the jump in construction prices. “We’re not alone in seeing that,” she said.

She added that Westborough joined several other library projects in seeking additional state funding through the American Rescue Plan Act. The additional request for Westborough would have been for $13 million.

Several residents spoke in favor of the project, citing the need for the renovations and the value of having a library in the center of town.

Kris Allen, the author of “Off the Beaten Path,” a history book about Westborough, has been a regular at the library for almost 50 years.

“When I first visited the library, I felt welcome and at home,” said Allen, who’s also a former library trustee. “More and more, this was a building I cared about.”

Allen was on the library building committee in 1980, and said the library “needs to be caught up.”

The ‘no’ votes on Westborough library project

Many of those planning to vote “no” cited the costs, which rose from an initial estimate of $26 million to nearly $37 million, mostly due to construction costs.

One resident compared the library’s renovation project to “putting a square peg into a round hole.”

While some residents loved the library, several residents complained about a lack of parking space around the library.

Others wondered whether the library sought an alternate site, such as Bay State Commons. Amyot replied that “a 50-year lease would have been cost prohibitive to the town.”

One resident said the project was “a lot of money to upgrade a building that’s not been upgraded well over the past 10 years.”

In its report to Town Meeting, the Advisory Finance Committee voted against the project, 6-2; the Select Board voted to approve, 5-0.

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