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Hail Mary: New Belmont Library Proposal Makes One Final Pitch

Will seek to build on current site using West Springfield's successful effort as a template to save the "new" library project.

If you're in the Belmont Public Library, look for the book with the catalogue number 818.4 TWAIN; "Mark Twain" by Geoffrey C. Ward and Dayton Duncan based on a documentary film directed by Ken Burns. 

In the book, you'll find Twain's famous (correct) statement "[T]he report of my death was an exaggeration." 

And just as Twain's "final" illness was premature (by 12 years), so could the reported "death" of the proposed $19.5 million, 42,000 square-foot new Belmont Public Library after the Belmont School Committee in April refused to provide a sports field for the project. 

Before the Belmont Board of Selectmen on Monday, June 17, Matt Lowrie, chair of the Belmont Board of Library Trustees said the board will seek to follow the example of supporters of a new library in West Springfield which persuaded the state last year to allow the use of an alternative location to build the structure.

The alternative site in Belmont? On top of the current library location on Concord Avenue.

But the Belmont Trustees will need to hurry; they have a mere two weeks – July 1 – to provide the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners with the information that it should enjoy the same consideration as West Springfield while retaining the $7.5 million grant Belmont received in 2012 to build the project.

The MBLC will meet July 11 to decide the request. 

"West Springfield ... had more time for a new proposal. Ours is happening very fast so we are doing the best we can to put this together a full and complete package for the [MBLC] to consider," Lowrie told Belmont Patch after his presentation. 

The Selectmen is prepared to support the Trustees' last ditch effort to save the project and the millions in grant funding. 

"I'd hate to lose that [money] so you have our support," said Selectmen chair Mark Paolillo. 

The last-minute revival of the new library proposal comes less than two months after the Belmont School Committee appeared to end any hope that the Trustees would have the opportunity to replace the nearly 50-year-old structure experts report has outlived its usefulness. 

One of the clear requirements in the State Commissioners grant is that the proposed library is located on the exact site in the grant proposal. The only exemption is if historic artifacts or hazardous waste is located on the proposed site, said Lowrie. 

But investigating any "final straws" the Trustees could grasp onto, Lowrie discovered the state's Library Commissioners voted unanimously in July 2012 to allow West Springfield to switch the location of the $17 million library building project when its School Committee decided to renovate the school building it had previously gave to the city.

Lowrie believes Belmont can argue that it is in a similar predicament as West Springfield.

In addition, Belmont voted in 2005 to approve the building of a new library at the current site in an earlier submission to the MBLC, giving the state reason to approve the "alternative" site, he said.

Lowrie said the "new, new" library proposal would "be comparable" to the $19.5 million project due to the number of activities and new services it would provide, essentially adding 15 percent to the total area now being used. 

One glaring question that will need to be answered will be parking as the new library will need more than 100 spaces. Yet Lowrie points to the $800,000 in the current proposal that would have reimburse the School Department for the land.

"We can now address the parking issue," said Lowrie, suggesting that there could be parking above and below ground. 

K. Bonnin June 18, 2013 at 06:34 PM
$19.5 million for 42,000 sq ft to $19.5 for 29,000 square feet needs more justification than additional parking (you don't need a parking space to download a book or borrow media electronically at BPL or within the Minuteman system)
PJ Looney June 18, 2013 at 08:36 PM
Wasn't there a study under way by the WC to prioritize building needs? Why let the Library special interest leap frog more worthy and essential projects? We can apply for the Library grant again in 5 years when we have a better understanding of what a Library should look like and then decide if we are better off with a Library or Community Center with Internet Room.
Viking June 19, 2013 at 07:21 AM
And any decision to pursue a community center or a community center disguised as a library must be preceded by a referendum. The town long ago agreed to have a library, but the need for a library, new or old, is rapidly dwindling. The voters have not agreed that a community center is needed. We already have cafes and spaces for talks and music performances all over town. The New York Public Library is grappling with these issues. As the author of an article in the Financial Times recently wrote: "What on earth is the point of a public library at all these days?" (See, Are Library Books on Borrowed Time?, www.ft.com). Mr. Paolillo: Grabbing $7.5 million of state tax dollars that will commit Belmont to spending many millions more is a false economy. A number of other towns have looked that gift horse in the mouth and declined to build a new library. As long as we are going to ask the state to change the rules, a better plan would be to ask if we can use the money to rebuild roads and sidewalks.
Jane Ruddock June 23, 2013 at 08:46 PM
Are we in need of a new modern and updated full service library? Yes! we do need more than a community center with computers. Nearly 100 years ago a gentleman from the North End of Boston used the city's business branch to educate himself and grow a very large fortune. Years later, the new branch of the Copley Square addition was financed with his contribution. I'm not saying Belmont needs a little Andrew Carnegie as a reason to rebuild. But all communities grow intelligently, morally, and financially when they provide services for all to use. There are folks in this town who use the library for more than getting on line. Books are not totally out of vogue with a large group of patrons. The Children's Room, my special favorite, provides art in illustration; literature in paper books for big and small hands; music and enrichment for toddlers and the mothers getting together to form the parent networks they will have till High School Graduation in many cases. Read up on successful libraries in other towns ...Newton, Arlington, Lexington. In the recent past all of them invested in new building projects and created different missions to keep up with modern demands and clientele. I'd be ashamed to live in a town that won't support the newest iteration of the library. Face facts, it's not just the schools that raise house values. How we share resources with those most in need is a factor in creating a town of value, not just homes.

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