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Update: The expected cost for the project has increased to approximately $32 million, up from $21 million as of Sept. 27.
WESTFORD — After securing a provisional state-funded grant a year early, the J.V. Fletcher Library looks to its next steps in its proposed expansion project.
Library secures provisional grant
After the project was placed on a waitlist for a $7.85 million grant by the Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program in 2017, an increase in state funding allowed the J.V. Fletcher Library to leave the waitlist and receive provisional funding for its expansion project.
“Libraries even the playing field. Building libraries transforms communities and transforms lives,” said MBLC Chair Debby Conrad in a July 7 news release. “We are grateful to the Governor and Lt. Governor for their continued support of the Commonwealth’s libraries. The ongoing construction projects happening across the state and the recent increase to the library construction spending cap will strengthen libraries for decades to come.”
The average grant award is 45-50% of the estimated eligible costs with the remaining cost incurred by the municipality, according to the MLBC. Recipients are expected to secure the local match in funding during the next six months. According to J.V. Fletcher Library Director Ellen Rainville, the estimated cost for the project is expected to be $21 million.
Remaining funding will be need to be approved by both a two-thirds vote at Special Town Meeting on Oct. 17 as well as on the Nov. 8 town ballot.
“I compare it to a marathon,” Marianne Fleckner, chair of the J.V. Fletcher Library Board of Trustees told WestfordCAT. “It’s a process that makes sure that the libraries who get this money are deserving.”
She continued, “we’re right there for the finish line, we’re looking for residents to see and learn that this is an awesome project.”
Project aims to expand space, service offerings
The project is slated to more than double to children’s room and public meeting spaces, improve parking and technology offerings and will be code-compliant and accessible.
“Compared to other libraries, it [the children’s room] is so small and [an upgrade] is so overdue,” said Fleckner.
Rainville noted that the new, three-story plan is aimed to give the public additional space within the public library.
“There will be more collaborative and community space. We’re looking for a place that’s welcoming, that’s much larger and a much more versatile building to be able to handle whatever library and service trends come up in the future,” Rainville told WestfordCAT.
She continued, “what we see in the future is that personal use is going to be as important as managing and stacking and organizing the books that they want.”
A ‘minimal impact’ on tax burden
The building is also planned to follow sustainability guidelines to meet the town’s net zero emissions by 2050 guidelines.
“We’re also working with the Sustainability Committee and Westford Climate Action. This will be one of the things that adds costs to our budget, but the good thing is that the town will now be paying off a number of projects in FY23,” said Rainville.
She continued, “so 51 Main St. and the library can slide on to the town’s debt schedule with minimal impact on the tax burden.”
According to Westford’s Budget Policy Direction, approved by both the Select Board and Finance Committee, the town should seek to have seven to 10% of the operating budget in debt service as it demonstrates “sound management practices” and a “commitment to maintaining” the town’s infrastructure.
Currently, the town’s debt service is 6.76%. With the highway garage, Miller, Crisafulli and Stony Brook School projects paid off, the town’s debt service is projected to be reduced to 4.75% unless new debt is authorized.
“We feel the time to take on new debt is when debt is paid because it avoids dips and spikes in the tax rate,” said Town Manager Jodi Ross in an Aug. 8 Select Board meeting.
According to current projections by Finance Director Daniel O’Donnell the current tax rate is projected to remain at or below the fiscal year 2022 rate of $301.80 for a median assessed home of $551,000 should both projects receive final approval.
The J.V. Fletcher Library uses approximately 1.4% of the town’s tax rate — approximately two dimes and three pennies per household — for funding. The library estimates that for every dollar spent on the building and its programs sees a $13.60 return on investment for taxpayers.
Rainville and Fleckner both noted that if the project is not approved at Special Town Meeting and the Nov. 8 town ballot, the library may have to wait an additional 20 to 30 years to receive a new grant.
If the project is approved at both Special Town Meeting and on the town ballot, Rainville and Fleckner estimate the project will begin between 2023 and 2025. View the PowerPoint here.
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