Town Meeting: Recount confirms Grafton’s rejection of funds for new library building

By LIZ SAUCHELLI

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 03-24-2023 4:14 PM

GRAFTON — Residents remain at odds over what do about the Grafton Public Library after a proposal that would have allocated $210,000 for the first phase of a new library was narrowly defeated on Town Meeting Day.

The 182-175 vote was later reaffirmed with a recount Monday.

But in a show of support for the library, voters defeated an article supported by the Selectboard that would have taken away control of the library’s capital improvement from the Library Board of Trustees. It lost, 195-147.

“This is really beyond just a library,” Andrew Cushing, chair of the trustees, said about the capital improvement article. “It struck us as very personal, a very direct attempt to harm the library.”

Initial estimates put the price tag on the new library at $650,000. The trustees, along with the nonprofit organization Friends of Grafton Library do not plan on asking the town for tax dollars to support the project, Cushing said.

Some residents, however, remain skeptical, particularly when it comes to what it would cost the town to operate a new public library.

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“If they came back with more detailed plans and an explanation of how this process would go with some cost estimates I’d be more open to it. I think the town would be too,” said Steve Darrow, a former Selectboard member who has spoken frequently at meetings about the library’s plans. “I can see the effort these groups are going through in order to get to their goal. It’s not my intention to thwart them.”

Supporters have been working to raise money to build a new library on a plot of land at 2 Library Road, which was donated to the town in 2016 for that purpose. Since then, there have been discussions about moving the current building, located at 47 Library Road, to the new location and adding on to it — as well as renovating it. The library does not have plumbing. Supporters say there is not adequate parking or space to hold programs.

“The impetus was allegedly that some little girl over a decade ago peed her pants at the library because there was no bathroom there,” said Cindy Kudlik, who served three years on the town’s Selectboard, including multiple stints as chair, before deciding to not run for re-election this year. “Other than address that issue they decided they wanted to build a new library which seemed a little ridiculous to us.”

Supporters disagree, arguing that the space is inadequate to meet the community’s needs and that there are other issues that need to be addressed.

“We have people who can’t come to events because we don’t have a designated handicap parking spot,” said Elaina Bergamini, who is president of the Friends group. While there is a ramp to the doorway, “it’s a little rickety. They just don’t feel safe on it.”

There’s also not enough space for programs, including a growing chess club and watercolor group.

The library’s lot size is too small to put in a septic system, Bergamini said.

But not everyone is convinced.

“I don’t think all the possibilities of the current site have been currently researched,” Darrow said. “I think if someone wanted to, they could add onto that library and they could overcome the land issue too.”

The land donated to the town in 2016, however, was meant to be the home of a new library which means a renovation is unlikely.

At Town Meeting, town officials wanted to take control of the capital fund away from the trustees is because they did not think they would use the money appropriately, Kudlik said. In the article requesting the use of $210,000 to start to build the library, $40,000 would have come from the reserve fund.

“They can’t use the capital reserve fund to build a library because it is for maintaining and repairing the current library,” Kudlik said.

The goal of the friends group is to raise money from grants, donations and other sources independently of the town, Bergamini said.

“We don’t want a bond vote,” she said. “We don’t feel that Grafton can or will support a capital project out of taxpayer funds.”

Kudlik contended that the reserve fund is taxpayer money because they voted to “put that money in at one point.” The Selectboard also took issue that the amount for the article included “in-kind” donations, meaning builders who would volunteer their time to work on building the new library. “Which is why we amended that article per the town attorney’s suggestion that it be cash that they give us or the equivalent of.”

While the friends group has been hosting fundraisers and applying for grants, their efforts have been stymied by a lack of approval from the town.

“Ultimately you need the town support to assure donors and grantors that the project is going to happen in a timely and supportive manner and we don’t have that yet,” Cushing said.

Since December, the library has been without a director — a part time position.

“It’s really, really tough especially in this labor market to find someone who would work for the pay we’re offering, the hours we’re offering and the political climate they’ll find themselves in,” Cushing said.

But in another disagreement over how the library’s funds are managed, Kudlik said that’s not the case.

“It’s not that people aren’t giving them enough money to do what needs to be done, it’s that they’re not handling their money well,” she said, saying that the library has historically under spent their budget by 10%.

The trustees and friends group have not been deterred and plan on continuing to raise funds for a new building they hope is in the future.

“It’s a big project and it’s scary for some people to envision so sometimes it takes a year or two to get past a Town Meeting,” Cushing said. “We’ll revise our plans and communicate those plans and have another year of outreach and come back to the voters in 2024.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.

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