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Foxborough library expansion plans stir dispute

The current design of an expansion for Foxborough’s Boyden Library (above) differs from one presented at Town Meeting last year, which town officials say was never meant to be final. The current design of an expansion for Foxborough’s Boyden Library (above) differs from one presented at Town Meeting last year, which town officials say was never meant to be final. (Artist’S Renditions By Lerner Ladds + Bartells (Above), Best-Joslin (Below))
By Michele Morgan Bolton
Globe Correspondent / June 2, 2011

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An ultramodern design for an expansion of Foxborough’s 1960s-era Boyden Library at Bird and Baker streets has caused a firestorm of controversy in the historic neighborhood, where residents have hired a lawyer to try to stop it.

According to Foxborough attorney Mark Stopa, who says he represents a group of a dozen or more residents, the $12 million renovation and expansion project is based on a design residents had never seen until recently. He said they also didn’t receive legal notice of a key meeting last August where the plan was granted zoning variances.

“Everyone agrees we should have a library that meets the town’s needs,’’ Stopa said. “We want a beautiful library we can all be proud of, not one that violates who we are as a town. And we ought to have a say in how it should look.’’

Town Meeting voters approved funding in May 2010 to upgrade and expand the large concrete library next to the town common. But controversy developed recently, particularly among those who live within sight of the library, when the voters learned that the design they thought they had approved — with a graceful, curved glass wall connecting the existing building with the new one — had been replaced with one dominated by an angular exterior overhang and dramatic glass stairway.

“This takes a really ugly building and makes it worse,’’ said Stopa.

Library officials, who have expressed surprise and dismay at the voters’ reaction, say that the plan voters approved last year was always a conceptual image and that the new plan fits the project’s philosophy and budget.

The chairman of the library’s board of trustees, Jeff Lovely, also said he has been assured by town zoning officials that the proper legal notices were distributed.

Lovely said trustees are doing their best to make the design compatible with the current building and compromise with neighbors and other officials. But when it comes down to it, he said, his responsibility as an elected trustee is to provide the town with the library it has been waiting for.

“If someone were to derail the process now, the town will have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars, plus it will lose the new library,’’ Lovely said.

Library officials said a copy of the new design was leaked to a local newspaper in recent months before trustees had a chance to unveil it, which caused the uproar.

The officials are now planning a public meeting at the library on Monday to discuss and officially present the new design.

The library received the necessary variances from the Zoning Board of Appeals last August to add onto the building. It is under review by the town’s Planning Board, the Permanent Municipal and Building Committee, and the Design Review Board, which enforces a bylaw that such projects must be compatible with surrounding structures.

Members of that board have raised a number of suggestions for changes, from adding traditional building materials to features like columns and cornices that might better blend with the street of old Colonials nearby.

While trustees are open to ideas, Lovely said, “we are not going to slap clapboards or columns on it willy-nilly.’’

He and others said the town’s design review bylaw is nebulous, since the structures that surround the library include an Aubuchon Hardware store, a Greek Revival-style church, a large retirement home, and a pink community theater, in addition to the historic neighborhood.

But in a May 26 letter to the design review board, members of the town’s Historical Commission objected to the proposed design, saying it is not in harmony with the neighborhood and will detract from the community.

Meanwhile, some residents, like Veronica Barrett, say they are not concerned with how the library looks, but with what it offers.

Barrett said she and her family, including three middle-school-age children, often have as many as 200 items checked out at one time from the downtown library that also hosts clubs, community meetings, and quiet space for students working on advanced degrees.

“This is a library for the entire town,’’ Barrett said. “I live here. I have kids. I’m not hearing about a lot of people who don’t like the design.’’

Town Manager Kevin Paicos said “reasonable and smart’’ people will find a way to work together.

“There have been some bumps,’’ he said. “But there have to be some compromises along the way.’’

Library director Jerry Cirillo said he and the trustees are trying to follow the town’s legal procedures and also listen to what their neighbors have to say.

However, he said, the current building is too small for its 97,000 books, 7,000 pieces of audio materials, and collection of 4,500 videos and DVDs. The library also has a growing electronic and downloadable database of materials.

Renovation of the existing space is critical to upgrading the building’s infrastructure, which contains an elevator that is not up to building codes and failing plumbing and heating-ventilation systems, he said.

Planning for a library expansion began in 2005, Cirillo said. Some concessions are under discussion, he said, like colors of the exterior trim, traffic patterns, lighting, and larger plantings for buffers.

But time is marching on, he said. “It’s frustrating, yes, because we have an architect on board, and we are incurring costs.’’

Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at michelebolton@live.com.