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West

Grants set stage for library project votes

Residents in Shrewsbury, Belmont, and Framingham are expected to vote next year on new library projects now that the state has awarded grants to pay for about 50 percent of the construction costs.

The towns have nine months to finalize plans and gain local approvals for their projects in order to receive the matching funds from the state.

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Shrewsbury and Framingham may hold votes as early as next spring, while Belmont is still finalizing a site for its new library and will likely seek an extension for local approval, said the Belmont Public Library’s director, Maureen Conners.

“We’re going to do our best,’’ Conners said. “We did get the grant, and now we need to try to get things moving.’’

The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners recently announced $41.8 million in grants for projects in eight communities statewide, including $7.6 million for Belmont, $4.2 million for Framingham, and $7.9 million for Shrewsbury. The other communities receiving funds were Salisbury, Reading, Scituate, Edgartown, and Acushnet.

The Belmont project calls for spending $19 million on a new library to be built on one of the Belmont High School practice fields. The library has pledged $2 million through private fund-raising, leaving taxpayers to provide about $10 million, Conners said.

Belmont received state funds in 2008 but had to turn down the money after the town decided to hold off on the project. It’s not a done deal this year either, Conners said, but she is hopeful all of the logistics, including the site, can be resolved.

In order to build on the school district’s land, the town must come up with a replacement for the practice field, Conners said. One idea being studied calls for moving the Underwood Pool, which is in need of repairs, a short distance closer to the playground on Concord Avenue, allowing for a new field to be built where the pool sits now.

Conners said a new library is needed because the current one is outdated. She said all mechanical systems are original and past their useful life. She said the library does not have any quiet study space, lacks enough computers, and is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“We’re a high-volume library, so the building gets a lot of traffic,’’ she said. “It’s pretty tight.’’

In Framingham, space is also an issue. The town would use the grant for a new $8.6 million McAuliffe Branch of the Framingham Public Library, director Mark Contois said. The branch would be in the town’s Nobscot section, near more than half of Framingham’s public schools.

The new McAuliffe Branch would provide a larger children’s room, dedicated space for young adults, and more public computers and outlets for laptops, he said. The building would also be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and feature a meeting room, several study rooms, comfortable reading chairs, and easy-to-reach shelves. Because the new branch would be on a single floor, it would not require more staff.

Contois said the current McAuliffe Branch, in the town’s Saxonville neighborhood, is one of the smallest branch libraries in the state yet one of the busiest.

“We’ve got a tremendous mission and vision but it’s too small,’’ Contois said.

The library will ask Town Meeting voters to fund Framingham’s $3.8 million share. The Framingham Public Library Foundation has pledged to raise $600,000.

Shrewsbury Public Library director Ellen Dolan said her town wasn’t expecting to hear any news until next year, but officials are thrilled and will immediately work on design changes, such as cutting the proposed facility’s square footage by 10 percent.

“It’s unexpected good news so we’re just now working on a schedule and plan,’’ Dolan said.

Hoping to capitalize on a good construction climate, Dolan said, the town sought approval for a temporary tax increase to pay for the library project last October. Residents did not know the status of the state grant then, however, and rejected the proposed Proposition 2½ debt-exclusion override, Dolan said.

Now that the state grant has been approved, the Board of Selectmen and library trustees will decide when to bring the request back to the voters. The proposal, before any design changes, calls for a $19.1 million library. After state funding and private fund-raising, Dolan said, the town would pay about $9.4 million.

“We’re optimistic the changes will satisfy the community’s concerns,’’ Dolan said.

In Reading, residents are expected to vote on the library project at a Special Town Meeting in January or February, said Ruth Urell, director of the Reading Public Library. Voters in the town election April 2 will decide on a Proposition 2½ debt-exclusion override to fund the town’s share of about $7.1 million. The entire project is about $12.2 million.

“With the town’s continued support, this award will enable our wonderful library to better serve the Reading community for at least several more generations,’’ Urell said.

She said a new library is needed because the current building has inflexible space due to inadequate infrastructure; no room to increase or update technology; and no place to plug in a computer or laptop.

In Salisbury, the town is expected to hold a vote sometime next year on funding for its library project, said Salisbury Public Library director Terry Kyrios. She said the trustees and the building committee need to get together to work out the details and set dates. The town’s share of the $7 million project would be about $3.2 million, she said.

Kyrios said the town has a desperate need for a new library because the current building is outdated and doesn’t have enough space. She said there is no meeting room, not enough parking, and no room for young adults.

“We are so pinched for space, we are fighting for inches,’’ Kyrios said.

Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at jflefferts@yahoo.com.
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