Vote on applying for grant

Library renovation could get state funds

By Jennifer Fenn Lefferts
Globe Correspondent / April 24, 2011

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The Sherborn Library is hoping to renovate and expand its 40-year-old building to accommodate the modern needs of all of its users, from toddlers to senior citizens.

Director Elizabeth Johnston said the library is in the running for a state grant that would pay for about 50 percent of the estimated $6.5 million project. But to be considered for the funding, residents must first sign off on conceptual design plans, she said.

The project calls for expanding the children’s room, installing new mechanical systems, and making the library handicapped-accessible, Johnston said.

“The building has been maintained to keep it running, but it’s gotten to the point where the overall age has broken through,’’ she said.

The warrant for Tuesday’s Town Meeting includes an article that would allow the library to complete its application to the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners for a construction grant. The article does not ask for funding; Johnston said that would require a separate vote in the fall if the town wins the grant.

“It is a no-money vote,’’ she said. “It’s a required vote for the library to complete its application for the state.’’ If residents reject the preliminary plans, the project will not have a chance to move forward, Johnston said. Town Meeting starts at 7 p.m. at Dover-Sherborn High School.

If the town approves the conceptual plan, and if the town receives a grant when recipients are announced this summer, residents would then be asked to kick in the local share, which will likely come to about $2.5 million, Johnston said.

Celeste Bruno, a communications specialist for the Board of Library Commissioners, said 30 communities have applied for funding. The board estimates that 10 projects will be funded in this grant cycle.

Bruno said the board requires local approval as part of the application process.

“The new construction regulations are very generous, so in order for a library to take advantage, there has to be significant local support,’’ Bruno said. “One way to ensure this is to have local approval.’’

She said the state is committed to helping libraries, many of which are housed in older buildings, offer modern services as they continue to gain in popularity.

“The usage keeps going through the roof,’’ she said.

Between 2000 and last year, in-person library visits throughout the state increased by 50 percent, circulation increased by 29 percent, attendance at library programs increased 29 percent, and Internet sessions increased by 128 percent.

Bruno said any worthy projects not funded in this round will be put on a waiting list for the next cycle. She said construction grants are not awarded every year, and it’s unclear when the next round of funding would be available.

Stacey Brandon, chairwoman of Sherborn’s library trustees, said she is hopeful that residents will support the article. The town’s Advisory Committee and Board of Selectmen have voted to support it at Town Meeting.

“I think the town is very much behind the project,’’ she said. “The library is a very integral part of the town and a very cherished part of Sherborn.’’

She said library officials have been working hard to spread the word that no money is needed now and that the funding phase would come later. She said her town board has set up a fund-raising committee, and the private Friends of the Sherborn Library group has already been raising money for the project.

Johnston said the vote to allocate funding would likely take place at Special Town Meeting in the fall. Johnston said if the state kicks in $3 million, the town’s portion would likely be around $2.5 million. She said library supporters have committed to privately raising $1 million toward the project.

The town would have to borrow the money to pay for the local share. Johnston said the project would cost taxpayers, on average, between $133 and $150 a year over 20 years. She said, however, that it could be less if the town is able to move quickly and take advantage of a favorable bidding climate.

Johnston said the library, constructed in 1971, is well built but needs a makeover. She said all of its mechanical systems, from electrical to heating and plumbing, are outdated. She said the building does not have an elevator, so residents with limited mobility are not able to access the upper and lower floors.

In addition, the library’s space, particularly for children, is too small, she said, and is not adequate for modern uses such as computers.

Johnston said 50 percent of all library borrowing is related to children yet just 6 percent of the space in the library is dedicated to them. She said the children’s area is 958 square feet, half of which is taken up by stacks of books that are piled too high for children to reach.

“It makes it the kind of place where you don’t want to spend a lot of time,’’ Johnston said.

In addition to creating more space for younger children, she said, the new library would have study space for school-age children and ample space for adults.

“The library is really the place where people meet and greet their neighbors and get to know the personality of the community,’’ Johnston said.

Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at