Building & Accessibility Renovation Project
The rest of this month's newsletter is going to have a singular focus because the topic deserves it. All of our programming and events are on the website, so head there for the next book clubs. This will be a long read, but please bear with me till the end. I want to answer as many questions as possible.
On August 21, 2000, the Library Board of Trustees appointed a building committee charged with overseeing the development of plans for the renovation and expansion of the library. It is now 2020. We have made some minimal, slapdash improvements to the Library. We've also made some not so minimal improvements, like the gravel parking lot, new carpet, weatherization, and modernized climate control. But the elephant in the room still remains unaddressed despite 20 years of uphill battle.
We are still not accessible. We aren't even close to ADA compliance. Mothers still have to leave their strollers outside. Children in wheelchairs have to be carried into the basement and told there is no restroom for them. The occasional patron still has to to be guided or even carried up the stairs. Children with disabilities in town have been born, grown up, and entered their adult lives without an accessible library. Why? Here's the story:
A) The first proposals were designed to comply with standards set by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners at the time. This entailed an addition of 10,600 square feet. For reference, our entire current facility is only 4,875. This addition, as well as other standards that had to be met, would have made the project eligible for state grant funding. But the state only funds half while meeting their standards makes the project at least 4 times more expensive. This wasn't and isn't palatable for our community.
B) Coming back with a very pared down version of the renovation project in 2006, the Library Trustees and the Building and Facilities Construction Committee did not see eye to eye on the direction to be taken regarding an architect. The Trustees wanted to continue working with Bob Farley, and old school architect who had been involved in the project since 2001 and had a vision like
. The BFCC wanted to move forward with Charlie Van Hoorhis, who ultimately created the official design in 2012 that you can pore over in all its gloriously intricate detail
. The Library and the rest of the town offices did not have an ideal relationship at that point, optimism that a debt exclusion article would pass at the ballot was very low, and so those plans never came to fruition.
C) In June 2015, the Trustees hired me as director. My interview hinged on whether or not I had the knowledge, energy, and passion to make the renovation project a reality. I admittedly had zero experience in these kinds of projects (and zero experience in library administration at all for that matter) but the Trustees gave me a chance anyway. The first thing I did was meet with Van Hoorhis in and attempt to understand his design rationale and try to pare down the project further. Together, we made some
and estimated the project at around $2.3-$2.5 million. The second thing I did was meet with a representative from the MBLC who confirmed that we would still be on our own if we undertook a project of this scope. I asked what they thought we needed to spend on our library, they guessed around $14 million, and that was the end of that.
D) In 2016, we could have taken those plans to town meeting for a debt exclusion article. After feeling the political pulse of the town, however, I advised not doing so. I was learning about the community at the time, getting to know people, and discussion kept coming back to doing things the Douglas way--no-nonsense, economical, and functional. That's how I got the idea for the title of this newsletter. Perhaps not taking the plans to the ballot that year was a mistake, but the schools were desperately campaigning for an override in that same election and it failed at the ballot 2 to 1.
E) In 2017, I thought we had a good chance for a grant from the Massachusetts Office on Disability, so Charlie and I worked to come up with a project that would get us accessibility for as cheap as absolutely possible. Here are the
. We did not get the grant, which is ultimately probably a good thing because we would have lost sizable chunks of our programming and shelf space. Also, I was fighting to keep the Library funded that year as the municipal budget was getting threateningly tight and the Board of Selectmen had to be persuaded to use certified free cash to keep the Library in operation.
F) In 2018, we were too busy trying to keep the Library from closing to be concerned about renovations. At the start of the budget season, it seemed like a done deal that the Board of Selectmen were not going to put an override on the ballot and the Library was as good as doomed. They were persuaded to approve the override, though they still thought it would be impossible to pass. The Library was on the chopping block and would only continue existing if an override to stabilize the town budget passed...which it did by 14 votes.
2018 taught me two things. First, the Library has a lot of support out there. Of the 3 successful overrides in Douglas history (and only 1 in recent history), the Library was on the hook for two. The Library is one of the few things that the majority--albeit a very slim one--is willing to fund by increasing their taxes. Second, it will take an act of God for me to ever propose funding a library building project through debt exclusion. I don't want to be responsible for putting the community through something like the 2018 override campaign ever again.
So here we are. It is 2020. Charlie Van Hoorhis has moved to a new firm and is no longer able to work with the town regarding his plans, so the the Trustees and the BFCC can finally consider that project closed. What we have now is an opportunity to restart and refocus the scope of the project. Ultimately, the Library's needs come down to a scope of 4 things:
- An entrance to the building that is accessible.
- Code-compliant paved parking connected to the accessible entrance.
- An elevator to provide access to both floors.
- An accessible public restroom.
These things can be accomplished with minimal alteration and invasion of the Library's existing space. It might look something like
, as imagined by Aaron Socrat. Preliminary discussions with a joint subcommittee of Library trustees and BFCC committee members estimate--and this is a very loose, wildly preliminary estimate--that this will be somewhere around a $500,000 project. If we can come up with a good chunk of that, we might be able to get the town to contribute the remainder through financial vehicles that
do not involve increasing taxes
Right now, the Trustees have the following assets set aside for renovation:
-$11,402.27 in building donations
-$4,314.36 in interest bearing building donations
-$1,628.02 in trust
The Trustees also have the following assets which are not specifically for renovation, but could be applied if they aren't needed elsewhere:
-$17,909.38 in Library Incentive and Municipal Equalization Grants
-$55,176.26 in regular donations
That's a grand total of $90,430.29 if we can manage to hang onto it without any unexpected expenses. I am on a quest to start getting some of our maintenance expenses covered by the capital improvement committee and baked back into our operational budget so we aren't steaming through our donations on light bulbs.
In theory, we could submit an RFP for our new project scope right now. There is no denying it is desperately needed. Many would prefer that we submit an RFP and pay to have plans drawn up first
seeking out funding, but that has led us to disaster twice. What I want to avoid at all costs is another situation like what happened between 2001-2006, and then again between 2012 and the present. In both of those instances, a significant amount of money was spent to go through planning and proposal processes with no end-game besides a debt exclusion article on the ballot to fund them.
I am strongly advocating that we collect enough capital to see the project through
committing further funds to planning and design. So I have to appeal to your generosity. 2020 is going to be a capital campaign year. If at any point during this year you have the means and generosity, please consider contributing so that we can make this library accessible and move on to providing better service to the community. Once we have enough funds to reasonably guarantee the project will reach fruition, we can proceed with confidence that resources are going to a good use instead of out the window.
You can find a button to donate on our
Friends of the Library web page
, or donate directly
. I'd prefer if you visit the Library with a check made out to the "Library INT Building Fund," though, so that a) I can meet you and thank you in person and b) we don't lose the paypal commission. All donations are 100% tax deductible. Please consider donating, and pretty please help pass this along to friends, family, neighbors, acquaintances, random passers-by, and estranged cousins.
Thanks for reading if you made it this far,