1. The Building: size, location, design, process


The new library building will be two floors and a total of 41,500 square feet. One important driver of the space considerations was the mandate to meet the legal requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which required additional space to accommodate the configuration specifications for accessibility.


The building is located on the same site as the current building, but it makes much better use of the site. Parking is all on the west side of the building, allowing the building and grounds to remain connected from the street all the way back to Wellington Brook behind the library.


The building plans were created in two steps: (1) Feasibility Study (2015-2017), when the community helped define what was needed in the library; and (2) Schematic Design (2018-2019), when those needs were translated into a building design. The library project has had a tremendous amount of community input throughout the feasibility and design process, including seven community forums, two wide-reaching community surveys, children’s programming events focused on design, young adult focus groups, and more than 60 meetings with town government groups and organizations. In addition, all Library Building Committee and Board of Trustees meetings are open to the public and community members are encouraged to attend and give feedback on any stage of the Library Project.


The result of this work is a new building that will include:

  • Completely accessible access on both floors.  In the current library building, patrons in wheelchairs cannot enter the adult floors of the building.
  • Space to address overcrowding in the children and youth areas
  • Spaces where adults can work quietly, collaborate with a team, or sit and chat with a friend
  • Numerous types of resources, including books, magazines, newspapers, media, technology, loaner equipment, and more
  • Adequate space to support the library’s hundreds of programs – concerts, lectures, classes, technical/craft workshops, training, social groups, etc.
  • Meeting spaces (which are in high demand) for small team collaboration, organization meetings, and large events
  • Historical section where the Claflin Room and the Belmont History room are side-by-side
  • Space for outdoor meetings or reading that allows individuals and groups to use the library in a way that helps them feel safe and stay healthy
  • Sustainable design including energy efficient systems, no fossil fuels, high performance building envelope, south facing solar panels, natural daylighting, stormwater management, and healthy materials
  • Design for operational efficiently and community safety/security
2. The Cost: donations, bonding, cost to me, budget


Private donations will account for $5 million of the funding for the new library building. This level of private funding is unprecedented for any Belmont capital project. These donations are restricted to be used for a new building, and cannot be used for repairs. These funds are also time-limited; they are only available now, for this building, and only if the vote passes on November 8, 2022.


The remainder of the cost of the project – $34.5 million (net private fundraising) – will be funded by taxpayers through a 30-year bond, similar to other capital projects.


The cost of the library per household is $232/year per $1M assessed home value, which corresponds to $19/month.


The project budget was created through the reconciliation of two independent, detailed estimates created by professional estimators based on current market pricing of every piece of the project. If needed, estimators reach out to subcontractors to validate their assumptions.

The original budget was created at the end of the Schematic Design phase in 2019, and the budget was re-estimated again in 2021, and as recently as summer of 2022, to reflect the current construction market conditions.

3. The Usage: circulation, participation


FY 2022 was another record breaking year for the Belmont Public Library; over 676,000 items from the collection were borrowed, surpassing the prior record breaking year of 2019 (pre-pandemic). Belmont ranks 10th in terms of circulation compared to all Massachusetts libraries – we are ranked right behind much larger cities and towns such as Cambridge, Boston, and Newton.


The library is seeing a rapid recovery of in-person participation at the library following the impact of the building closure during the pandemic – as reflected in visitors to the library, participation in programs, and number of programs offered. In addition, 2/3 of Belmont residents have library cards.

4. The Need: why do we need a library in the digital age?

The role of the public library has expanded, not diminished, in the digital age. Libraries are evolving to meet the new needs of the community. A 2016 Pew Research Center Survey and corresponding report found that “53% of Millennials say they used a library in the previous 12 months.” It is worth noting that the survey asked for “public library use,” not “academic library use.” Millennials, those aged 18-35 when the report was completed, were raised in the digital age, yet they are among the largest group of library patrons.

The Belmont Public Library is thriving in the digital age. It serves ALL members of the Town, covering all ages and demographic profiles. As an institution that touches all groups, the Library is uniquely poised to cultivate materials and provide programming that reflect the Town’s interests and needs. For example:

Literacy Programs – From storytimes to music programs to preschool fairs to summer reading programs, the Library gives children a place to start their literacy journey– to read, think, and explore.

Age and Interest-Specific Programming – From teen services such as the Girls who Code programs, Homework and Hot Chocolate sessions, and LGBTQ drop-in meetings, to adult programming like book clubs, knitting groups, author discussions, and technology training, to senior services such as homebound delivery and senior-specific technology training, the Belmont Public Library hosts programs that interest and positively impact resident of all ages.

Circulation Materials Beyond Books & Periodicals – People still want a robust collection of books and periodicals at their library, but they also expect to have other resources available. In addition to books, the Belmont Public Library offers extensive music and movie collections, e-books, e-audiobooks, music, and film downloads, and searchable databases like for video tutorials on business and technology, Gale-Cengage for Massachusetts legal forms, and Vocations and Careers Collection, to name a few. The list of resources, both hard-copy and electronic, provided by the Library grows daily.

Technology Services Inside and Outside the Library – While at the Library, patrons can access computers or connect to Wi-Fi on their own device. If patrons need instruction on available technology or on how to access electronic circulation materials, one-on-one technical training is available. In addition, laptops, kindles, rokus, and phone chargers are available for check out, so that patrons can bring technology into their homes.

Space for Social & Community Engagement – Libraries are often the center of social and community engagement, providing a safe place for people to work, study, attend music programs, and engage with other community members.

Evolving Programs that Address Community Needs –Library programming is constantly changing to reflect the needs of the community. Recent Belmont Public Library programmatic additions include: English Language Learning Conversation and Book Groups, Sensory Storytimes for children with autism spectrum disorders, sensory integration issues and other developmental delays, and computer programming classes for middle and high school students.

According to a 2017 Brookings report on Building Healthy Neighborhoods, “Libraries help local people figure out the complexities of life, from navigating the health system to helping those with housing needs.” The Belmont Public Library partners with organizations throughout the town to provide educational programming and meeting space to directly address community needs.

Librarians –Belmont Public Library librarians answered 29,754 reference questions in FY 2019. There is an amazing and dedicated staff at the Library, and they are always poised to assist patrons and to develop engaging and enriching Library programs.

Source of Wellness Programming – Library programs fulfill a wide-array of patron needs — everything from tai chi classes to healthy eating workshops, to mindfulness and meditation workshops, to the successful Be-Well Series.

Library patrons can stop by to pick up a book, and stay to learn a new skill, receive technology training, take a meditation course, search job databases. and so much more. It may be the digital age, but libraries play an even more important role in the lives of community members now than they ever have.

5. The Urgency: the failing building, why now

The existing library building is 57-years-old and has never been renovated.  Most systems are original to the building and many of them (including fire alarms, electrical, HVAC, roof) are in critical condition. The building has a long list of failures – constant, repeated, and serious failures – that demonstrate a very real and imminent threat to our failing library building (learn more in this video).


  • We are sourcing parts at junkyards because the equipment is so antiquated.
  • We recently had one failure that necessitated letting hot water gush out of the heating system for 2-1/2 weeks while replacement parts were fabricated.
  • We have 8-10 new roof leaks every year and a roof that is full of patches.
  • We have brittle wiring, exposed wires, burnt conduit, sparking outlets, power strips everywhere, and an overloaded electrical system.
  • We check every night to make sure no one is stuck in the elevator.
  • We check every day to make sure that the fire alarm annunciator is still talking to the fire station.
  • We have mold concerns caused by water leaking from the roof into the walls.
  • A more complete list includes: electrical system overloaded — brittle wiring — electrical sparking — burnt & corroded conduit — antiquated fire alarms — no fire suppression — asbestos — failed heating — failed cooling — repeated roof leaks — water damage in walls — mold concerns — crumbling floor in eaves — plumbing failures — floods — lead paint — elevator breakdowns — elevator too small


Thus far, we have been lucky and any building closures have been temporary.  But there are many ways that a failure could cause the permanent closure of the building, including:

  • Loss of the heating or cooling systems, making the building uninhabitable.
  • Water problems – leaks from the roof, windows, plumbing, or foundation – causing mold or other health issues.
  • Fire alarm and electrical system failures raising serious concerns of fire.
  • Any combination of failures that exceeds the ADA threshold, thereby requiring a project we cannot afford to fund.

It is just a matter of time before our luck runs out.  We have a well-vetted plan for replacement, worked out over the past seven years, in place.  It is urgent that we replace the building now.

6. Repair vs. Replace: Can we "fix" the building?


There are so many failing systems in the old library building that they cannot be addressed in a piecemeal fashion.  The interdependencies require that they be replaced together.

For example, to fix the air conditioning, the units on the roof and in the eaves would need to be replaced.  In order to replace them, first the old leaking roof would need to be replaced.  All the ductwork would need to be accessed and replaced; the crumbling eaves would need to be fixed.  The electrical infrastructure is so antiquated it cannot support the additional demand and would need to be replaced.  And so on.


With the required repairs being interdependent, the spending threshold that triggers legally required accessibility and building code compliance is quickly crossed. The resulting repair project was estimated (by a professional estimating team) in June 2022 to be as high as $30.4 million.

In short, the experts have told us we would spend $30.4M-$34.5M (net private donations) for either constructing a new library building or trying to repair the failing building.

It would be irresponsible to invest that kind of money in this old building:

  • For the same money, we could have a building with no lurking building issues, which would also be a building that addressed all of our space and programmatic issues.
  • On the other hand, “repairing” the old building and bringing it up to current accessibility and code requirements would remove 25% of the usable space in the library, due to the legally mandated reconfigurations.
  • A building with 25% less usable space would exacerbate our space problems, not ease them. The overcrowded children’s room would be more overcrowded. Other dedicated spaces in the library would be eliminated. The shrinking library would be felt by everyone.
  • A new building would have a lifespan of 50-100 years, compared to a shorter lifespan for the old building.


7. Arlington & Watertown: Can we simply use another town's library?

If Belmont does not have a library, our town can no longer be a member of the Minuteman Library Network – our regional inter-library loan consortium. This consortium gives us access to millions of books and other items. To be a member of the network, a town must have a library budget that exceeds a minimum funding level – and in Belmont, we are already very close to that threshold. If our library fails and we have no library, Belmont will no longer have option to be part of the consortium. Without a library, Belmont will be de-certified and removed from the Minuteman Library Network.

In the past, when a town has become de-certified due to an inadequate funding level (a Massachusetts town deciding to close their library is unprecedented), the Boards of Library Trustees of the towns in the Minuteman Network have voted to refuse to loan materials to the residents of the de-certified town.  They did not want to subsidize the library services for a neighboring town that had chosen not to provide them.  If Belmont is de-certified, our residents could go visit neighboring libraries, but we would be banned from checking out books and other services.

8. The Vote: when, how, library & rink

There are now many ways to vote in a statewide election:

  • Voting has already begun through mail-in ballots.
  • Early voting will be October 22 through Friday, November 4.
  • Election day is Tuesday, November 8, from 7am to 8pm.
  • The two projects are separate ballot questions. 
  • There is no need to pick, each ballot measure is voted independently of the other.

There are two separate debt exclusion questions on the ballot – #5 for a new library and #6 for a new rink. These questions are independent. You can vote for one, both, or neither.

We urge you to VOTE YES on #5 to keep a library in Belmont. 

9. How can I help?

There are many ways you can help.  Make a donation to Vote Yes Library.  Volunteer to host a lawn sign, canvass door to door, staff an information table, or hold a sign.  We would love to have your support!