Westborough Library ponders next move in effort to fund expansion

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Westborough Library ponders next move in effort to fund expansion
Westborough Public Library sits on Main Street. (Photo/Laura Hayes)

WESTBOROUGH – The future of the Westborough Public Library expansion and renovation may hinge on a citizen’s petition.

During its Oct. 20 meeting, the Library Building Committee voted to recommend that the Library Trustees not request a Special Town Meeting but instead “support a citizen’s petition if one should come forward,” according to Library Director Maureen Amyot.

At the Special Town Meeting on Oct. 17, the library’s project, which is slated to cost nearly $37 million, fell short of the two-thirds majority needed for passing.

Citizen’s petition process

During the second night of Town Meeting on Oct. 18, the possibility of a petition came up.

According to Town Manager Kristi Williams, “The library articles could be placed on a subsequent Town Meeting warrant.”

Williams said there are two ways this could be done.

Voters may call for a Special Town Meeting – 200 registered voters or 20% of the total number of registered voters, whichever is less in number, may request a special Town Meeting. This meeting must be held no later than 45 days after the Select Board receives the request.

Also, the Select Board could be asked to call a Special Town Meeting. Amyot noted that the Board of Trustees could make such a request.

“It seems we have three choices – not seek a repeat vote, hope for the 200 signatures or ask the Select Board for a Special Town Meeting,” said Ed Baldwin, a library trustee and chairman of the Library Building Committee.

Walter Leslie of the Advisory Finance Committee said he was “completely not in favor of the vote” unless there was a significant change in the plans. He added that he did not want to see a precedent set of “we didn’t get the vote, so let’s have a Town Meeting.”

Mary Johnston, chair of the Library Trustees, said she “cannot ignore 80-plus emails wishing [the outcome] of Town Meeting was different,” and she would “fully support” a citizen’s petition.

Public weighs in

Baldwin started the meeting with a public forum.

Several residents said they were unable to attend Town Meeting because they had to stay home and take care of their families.

Julia Rissmiller read an email she had sent to Amyot on Oct. 18. She said she was unable to attend because of COVID, and she was “upset by the vote.”

Sophia Kogan said that Town Meeting was “inaccessible” to families with young children.

A couple of residents asked whether child care was available at Town Meeting.  Johnston said child care was available at the high school gym, but ended at 9 p.m. – one hour before the library vote was taken.

The forum also brought up better ways the plan could be publicized. This includes issues that drew the most detractors – the costs, parking and alternative sites.

“There are 40 parking spots at the library and the church,” said Leigh Emery, a member of the building committee. “A parking study exists.”

Westborough library repair project

This summer, the library was awarded a $9.4 million grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners.

Some project detractors said they would back a “major repair” project that would cost about $19 million and include replacing the windows and the roof.

However, the committee said the project would not qualify for the state grant and would not address the library’s lack of program and meeting space.

The library has the state grant until Jan. 9. If the library cannot obtain town approval, the grant will goes to another community with a library project.

As to the possibility of getting more state funds – either from the state budget surplus or from the American Rescue Plan Act – it’s unlikely that the library will get word before year’s end, according to Amyot.

“There’s no guarantee,” she said.

Amyot is encouraging residents to contact their local legislators to help the project obtain ARPA funding. For more information, click here.

The trustees were scheduled to meet at the library on Oct. 26.

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