Special Town Meeting votes down library project

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Special Town Meeting votes down library project
This drone photo shows the Westborough Public Library. (Photo/Tami White)

Update: This article has been updated with more conversation that occurred at Town Meeting.

WESTBOROUGH – This time, the decision was clear.

Plans to renovate and expand the Westborough Public Library have been put on hold.

By a vote of 715-529, residents at the Special Town Meeting rejected Article 1, which was a request to raise almost $36 million for the project.

According to Library Director Maureen Amyot, the Library Building Committee will meet on Dec. 13 at 3:30 p.m. to discuss the next steps.

What happened

Residents and town officials filled the auditorium and gym at Westborough High School on Saturday, Dec. 10, for Special Town Meeting. It was convened as a result of a citizens’ petition asking for a revote on the project that failed to draw a two-thirds majority at the October Special Town Meeting.

Amyot and Mary Johnston, chair of the library’s Board of Trustees, presented a summary on the project.

“This is the culmination of 10 years’ work,” said Amyot. 

According to Amyot, the project has come before Town Meeting 11 times since 2012.

“Libraries fill a need,” said Johnston. “It serves everyone, from infants to seniors.”

According to Amyot, for 2021-2022, the library checked out 265,000 items; had 107,000 annual visitors; and had 7,000 people participate in events.

Amyot and Johnston cited the need to replace the library’s aging electrical systems, roof and windows, as well as having new study rooms and children’s area.

For residents Steve Buttiglieri and Ed Crowley, the reasons for opposing the project came down to three things – too big, too expensive and inadequate parking.

The zoning plans for the project would result in a loss of green space, said Buttiglieri. Also, the library’s new addition would have been five feet closer to the property line.

There was also the issue of the adjacent Congregational Church. Not only were there concerns about its parking lot being used to park construction equipment, but Buttiglieri said tearing down the 1980 library addition, and excavating the lower basement, could risk the structures of both the church and the 1908 portion of the library.

On the financial front, Buttiglieri pointed out that the Fales Elementary School has yet to appear on the town’s tax bills. There was also the matter of interest rates – at the current rate of 4.5%, about $12 million could have been added to the project.

Parking was another issue. Buttiglieri said there were 112 parking spots within 350 feet of the library; he said the need is for 100-150 spaces. A current agreement between the library and the Congregational Church for use of the church’s parking spaces expires in 2026.

As alternatives, Buttiglieri suggested plans to make base repairs, including the roof and windows; update the study made in 2012; and seek another site for a new library with adequate parking.

Article 1 was decided by electronic devices in the auditorium, and by hand ballot in the gymnasium. It took about 20 minutes to tally all the votes.

The library project was in line to receive a $9.4 million grant from the state’s Board of Library Commissioners. With the vote against the project, it is likely that the grant will be allocated to another community library project.

The other articles

Article 2, a zoning change related to the library project, was passed over as a result of the vote on Article 1.

The remaining three articles – a change to the agreement for 0 Ruggles St.; a free cash transfer request to replenish the election account; and a free cash transfer for opioid prevention and treatment programs in town – passed by majority vote.

Watch the entire Special Town Meeting at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nZPd7Lazc1Y.