An article asking the town to borrow money to replace the roof and gutters at the old library passed by a comfortable margin at last Saturday’s Town Meeting, but failed at the ballot box a few days later. Article 10 asked the town to borrow an additional $921,360 to cover the estimated expense to replace the building’s slate roof and gutter system and repair deteriorated masonry. The town voted $480,000 last year to replace the roof, but a subsequent study of the scope of needed repairs increased the price tag. The Town Meeting discussion centered on whether the town should continue to spend money on the 125-year-old building. Nine residents spoke for the article, four spoke against it, including two members of the Finance Committee.
Several residents who spoke for the article pointed out that many of the old library’s problems were caused by deferred maintenance, and if nothing is done to fix the leaks and the damage that has caused, the building will continue to deteriorate and will only cost more money to fix in the future. Those against it said the town keeps coming back and asking for more money for the building.
Stow Road resident Joe Schmidt called the building a “money pit,” and said the town wasn’t getting any benefit from it. He added, “We’re worried about seniors leaving because the tax bills are getting so high, and yet we’re willing to continue to invest in that building. So would you rather have your senior neighbor live next to you, or would you rather maintain that building?”
Finance Committee member Mark Buell said the building isn’t being used by the town for offices, so it’s not offsetting its cost. “It’s being used for arts. That is not even analogous to a library. A library has a very significant public purpose,” he said. He suggested a thorough public review of the purpose of the building, and that the town be asked if it is willing to continue to support it.
Paul Green of Old Littleton Road said the town has been supportive of past requests for the old library, and the Finance Committee should respect that support. “It’s pretty clear from reading this year’s warrant that the majority of the Finance Committee hates this building,” he said, and added, “I urge the Finance Committee to give up their quest to make the town get rid of this building.” In the Finance Committee Address on page 1 of the warrant booklet, the committee said it did not support this project, and it wanted to know “the full costs necessary to maintain this underperforming town asset.”
Finance Committee Chair Don Ludwig responded to Green to clarify his committee’s position. He said, “We’re not trying to kill the building, we’re not asking for another study. What we’re asking for is to stop coming back to the town every year at Town Meeting asking for more money for this building.” He said the committee would like the new facilities manager to put together “a complete list of what is needed to keep this building alive.” He denied that the committee was making any judgment on how the building is being used or its value to the town.
Mark Mikitarian, board president of the building’s current tenant, Fivesparks, challenged Ludwig, asking why the old library is being singled out for a complete list of necessary repairs and costs. Ludwig responded that the facilities manager will be looking at all the town buildings in the same light as the old library.
Select Board Chair Alice von Loesecke said the town already has a complete maintenance and repair schedule for all the town buildings, referring to the report by Dude Solutions, which the town paid for last year. She added that the most important thing right now is to get the building watertight, and this project would accomplish that with the exception of the windows.
The article passed by the necessary two-thirds majority vote at Town Meeting, but like the three other questions asking the town for money, it failed at the ballot box, where it needed only a majority. The vote was 522 in favor, 617 opposed. Town Administrator Tim Bragan said the town’s new facilities manager has already been looking at repair options, but it is unclear if the original $480,000 voted to replace the roof at last year’s Town Meeting could be used for those repairs. He added that it would depend on the language of the article.