#1 Our library building is failing.

The long list of failures – constant, repeated, and serious failures – demonstrates a very real and imminent threat to our failing library building.

In the last few months:

  • Mold concerns related to recent a burst pipe in the wall
  • Burnt and corroded electrical conduit that required excavation of the entire perimeter of the parking lot to repair the outdoor lighting.
  • Failed air compressor that regulates the heat and temperature in the building and would have required closing the library if it had happened in the winter.
    NOTE: This equipment was replaced 2 years ago, but it died quickly because this modern control system was not designed to handle antiquated equipment.

The ever-growing list:

  • overloaded electrical system
  • electrical sparking
  • burnt & corroded conduit
  • brittle wiring
  • antiquated fire alarm system
  • no fire suppression
  • asbestos
  • lead paint
  • failed heating
  • failed cooling
  • frequent window leaks
  • frequent roof leaks
  • water damage in the walls
  • crumbling floor in eaves
  • mold concerns
  • plumbing failures
  • floods
  • elevator breakdowns
  • elevator too small for a wheelchair

Plus, there are legal requirements that public buildings, unlike homes, are required to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act – triggered by a relatively modest spending on repairs. This is an enormous scope of work that would require a full renovation.

In short, the building is failing and must be replaced.

#2 The scope of building failures makes repair/renovation an irresponsible approach.

The long list of failures and issues have extensive interdependencies that will trigger a chain reaction – you cannot fix A without fixing B, and C, and so on.

For example, in order to fix the air conditioning, you need to replace the units on the roof and in the eaves. In order to do that, you must replace the old, leaking roof. And the ductwork. And the crumbling eaves. And the electrical infrastructure that cannot support the additional demand. And so on.

Very quickly, you cross the spending threshold that triggers legal (ADA) and building code requirements. There is a low spending threshold that would trip the compliance mandate, and addressing those mandates would become a full building renovation that would cost nearly as much as new construction. Three independent feasibility studies with three professional teams of architects and engineers have concluded that renovation is a bad investment.

It is also important to note that renovation would actually remove 25% of the usable space in the library. The ADA requirements include things like expanding the expanding walkways, space between shelving, adding and expanding bathrooms, expanding the elevator shaft, expanding entrances, etc. Given that the building footprint would not change and the building does not have the structural strength to add another level, a renovated library would essentially shrink by 25%.

More recently, in 2021, and again in 2022, the Library Trustees hired CHA Consultants to outline the capital repairs needed if there is no new building. The list was long and the price tags would overwhelm the town’s entire capital budget for many years. The Trustees then asked CHA to investigate what it would take to do these repairs as a single project, instead of piecemeal. The scope was limited to critical repairs and did not include everything that would eventually need to be done to the building. As it became clear that the repair approach would cost more than $30 million even without complete scope, which is a comparable cost to a new building, the exercise was halted. However, this exercise confirmed that new construction is the only fiscally responsible path.

In short, the building would never be repaired because the scope of required work makes a repair/renovation approach about the same cost as a new building.

#3 It is urgent and cannot wait.

Something new fails in the library building nearly every week, and any one of them could be “the one” – the individual failure that triggers a chain of interdependencies, statutory requirements, and building codes that necessitates a full renovation.

How is that possible?

The building is 57-years-old and has never been renovated. Most systems are original to the building. Some are in critical condition – fire alarms, electrical, HVAC, roof. We are not going to be able to continue to put band-aids on these systems; they must be replaced.

It is now urgent.

  • We already search for old, broken, decommissioned equipment to source parts for repairs.
  • We already had one failure that necessitated letting hot water gush out for 2-1/2 weeks while replacement parts were fabricated.
  • We already have 8-10 new roof leaks every year and a roof that is full of patches.
  • We already have brittle wiring, exposed wires, burnt conduit, sparking outlets, power strips everywhere, and an overloaded electrical system.
  • We already check every night to make sure no one is stuck in the elevator.
  • We already check every day to make sure that the fire alarm annunciator is still talking to the fire station.
  • We already have mold concerns caused by water leaking from the roof into the walls.

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 potential health issues.
  • Fire alarm and electrical system failures raising the concern of fire.
  • Any combination of failures that exceeds the ADA threshold, thereby require a project we cannot fund.

Our luck will run out. It is urgent that we replace the building now.

#4 We have a well-planned, vetted solution.

Three feasibility studies – including three teams of architects and engineers and three volunteer feasibility study committees – evaluated the building, site, and needs, and then weighed the options of renovation or build new. Every study concluded that renovation was not a reasonable option and the building must be replaced.

The current schematic design was developed by Oudens Ello Architecture, CHA Companies (project management), and our experienced building committee, with input from multiple focus groups, 7 community meetings, 2 online surveys, focus groups, and 50+ key group meetings.

The new building is a well-planned, proactive, and prudent approach to securing the future of our library. The budget was created through the reconciliation of two independent, detailed estimates. The budget was re-estimated again in 2021, and as recently as the summer of 2022.

  • Private fundraising = $5 million
  • Net cost to taxpayers = $34.5 million
  • Cost per household $232/year per $1M assessed home value
  • No more costly repairs or lurking health and safety risks

The new design will create a basic library that facilitates the way people use libraries today, which is very different from the libraries of the 1960s when the old library was built. Back then, libraries had books, card catalogs, and encyclopedias. There were no photocopiers, computers, or WIFI. And there was no talking allowed.

Libraries today are the center of a community, the only public gathering space that is open to everyone, of all ages, backgrounds, and socio-economic means. Unlike the quiet, book-centric libraries of the past, libraries today are both a hub of activity and a place for individual and collaborative work. Libraries are the only institution – public or private – whose core tenet is that everything is free; the only place you can sit and talk to a friend without having to buy a cup of coffee. The vast array of resources and services offered by the library would be out of reach for many Belmont residents if there were no free public library.

Nevertheless, the library is a basic building with a flexible design that will allow the space to be easily reconfigured and repurposed to meet the evolving needs of the community. Key features of our new library include:

  • Accessibility that will (finally) allow patrons in wheelchairs enter the adult floors of the library building (unlike today)
  • 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
  • Outdoor spaces that allow individuals and groups to use the library in a way that helps them feel safe and stay healthy
  • A building that is designed from the ground up for sustainability – including energy efficient systems, no fossil fuels, high performance building envelope, south facing solar panels, natural daylighting, stormwater management, and healthy materials
  • A building that is designed for operational efficiently and community safety/security

The new library is a good design with a solid plan and a vetted budget.

2017 Feasibility Study — Johnson Roberts Associates

2019 Schematic Design — Oudens Ello Associates

2022 Updated Schematic Design Budget — CHA Companies

#5 This is our one chance to replace the building before we lose our library.

This project began seven years ago with a feasibility study and schematic design. We have invested over $350,000 in this plan. We have an architect, project management firm, and building committee. We have momentum.

In addition – and this is big – we have an unprecedented $5 million in private funds from nearly 1,000 Belmont residents and organizations to subsidize the project and reduce the impact on taxpayers, but that money is contingent on a positive vote on November 8th. If we do not approve the funding for this building, the town will forfeit $5 million and create a disincentive for any fundraising project in the future.

If the vote fails, we lose all of this – the design, investment, momentum, and fundraising.

At that point, it would likely be at least 5 years before another project is authorized, and another 4-5 years for the project timeline, which includes forming and funding a building committee; hiring a project manager and architect; feasibility study; schematic design; debt exclusion vote; design development; bid process to hire contractor; and construction. By then, construction cost escalation (at an estimated 5%) would make a new building project approximately 50% more expensive, plus we lose the $5 million offset from private fundraising. That would be an additional $25 million of the net project cost to be publicly funded. This would be a very bad decision for Belmont taxpayers.

We cannot wait that long. In the meantime, the building will fail, and we will be forced to permanently close the library.

This is our one chance to replace the building BEFORE the library fails, or we will lose our library.

#6 If our library is eliminated, other towns will ban Belmont residents from checking out books and other services.

There is no precedent for a town like Belmont to eliminate its library. There are no applicable policies. There is no one to call to get the definitive ruling on what would happen. However, there are two things to consider that shed light on the outcome.

    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.

There is a precedent for how the towns of the Minuteman Network handled a town that was de-certified. In that case, the Boards of Library Trustees in all towns in the Minuteman Network voted to refuse to loan materials to the residents of the de-certified town. In other words, they were banned from checking out books.

  1. LOGIC
    Logic also dictates that other towns would ban Belmont residents. Library services cost money. Towns fund their libraries at the level they need to provide services to their residents. They do not fund their libraries to provide services to a free-loading town like Belmont.

For example, Arlington residents would not allow their town government to subsidize our public safety services. Watertown residents would not allow their town government to subsidize our school services. They will not subsidize our library services, either.

The Boards of Library Trustees in the towns of the Minuteman Network would again vote to refuse to serve residents from the de-certified town – Belmont. We could walk in the library, but we would be banned from checking out books and other services.

Again, there is no precedent for a Minuteman Network town to eliminate its library. Frankly, there is no precedent for that in Massachusetts. Belmont could become the first town in Massachusetts to let its library die.

What is clear is that if we do not invest in library services for our residents, no one else is going to do it for us.