Royalton Pauses Library Project

  • An artist's rendering of the Royalton Memorial Library as planned, showing a view from Safford Street, with a new ground level main entrance. (Courtesy Jay White, Architect)

Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 17, 2018

South Royalton — The Selectboard this week called a “timeout” on a long-awaited plan to renovate the Royalton Memorial Library and has moved to change architects on the project after bids came in at least $250,000 higher than anticipated.

“The total cost of the project significantly exceeded the funding approved by Royalton voters. To properly determine the best way ahead, the Royalton Selectboard unanimously voted to take a short ‘time out’ on the project, and publicly review all alternatives to best support the Royalton (Memorial) Library, and stay within the funding means approved by the town,” a news release from the Selectboard on Monday said.

But the nonprofit library’s board of trustees says it is frustrated by the decision, and that more than $460,000 has been raised for the project, which has been in the works for more than 20 years. It also notes that voters expressed strong support for renovation to the building, which has serious safety code and access issues, when they approved a $750,000 renovation and upgrade bond on a 374-133 vote at a Special Town Meeting in October.

“The library board members are also taxpayers and understand the need for fiscal responsibility, but 20 years is  long enough to wait for rehabilitation and expansion of our important community building,” the trustees said in a letter on Tuesday.

Constructed between 1920 and 1924, the two-story brick building also housed the Town Clerk’s Office for several decades until a new town office building was erected in 2014. The library, which is next to the South Royalton Fire Department a block south of the village green, entered the National Register of Historic Places as part of the South Royalton Historic District.

But it also lacks a secondary fire egress, has old plumbing and heating, and requires patrons to climb a flight of concrete steps to enter, a glaring access problem. The two-story renovation would include a library addition with an elevator, a new accessible front entrance, added book-storage space, and a new meeting room.

Cynthia Dalyrymple, the chairwoman of the library board of trustees, said the State Fire Marshal has been granting waivers to the town since a formal complaint was filed in 2014, but approved of the renovation plan and recently indicated that improvements need to take place soon.

The Selectboard started to raise concerns on April 5, when they opened contractor bids for the renovation project, which had been predicted to be about $750,000.

Instead, the lowest of four bids was for just over $1 million, from Upland Construction, with Wright Construction the high bidder at just under $1.2 million, according to Selectboard minutes.

In addition, the bids did not include costs for a sprinkler system, which hadn’t always been part of the proposal, and other expenses.

Complicating matters is the fact that the library association sold the building to the town for $1 in 1971 and leases it back for $1 a year, and while the library board controls the operating budget, the bond is overseen by the Selectboard.

Dalrymple said the price of steel has gone up nationally because of new tariffs from the Trump administration, and that other building costs are higher because of floods around the country and fires out west that have created more of a demand for labor and material. The upgrades would also require a new water line that the library would have to cover.

As it became apparent that bids were  higher than expected, some members of the Selectboard stressed the point that library officials at the time of the bond vote had said most of the costs would be covered by fundraising.

Selectman Tim Dreisbach said at the April 5 meeting that the board did not want to use the entire bond amount of $750,000 when the taxpayers were told this project only needed to borrow about $300,000, the minutes state. A phone message for Dreisbach was not returned on Tuesday.

Then, at an April 11 special meeting, the Selectboard met in executive session for two hours and then moved to fire Jay White, the architect on the library project, and hire architect Frank “Jay” Barrett, the only member of the public to attend the meeting.

In a phone interview on Tuesday, Selectboard Chairman Larry Trottier said Barrett is serving as an adviser to assess cost estimates and see if there is another way to accomplish a library upgrade.

“We’re trying to revamp our thoughts and get together with the directors of the library and see what we can do to come up with a library (project) within the price range we had anticipated it could be,” Trottier said.

“We may have to come up with a whole different plan,” he said later.

But, separately, library trustees said abandoning plans to upgrade the existing building  could jeopardize at  least $ 239,000 in grants, along with other individual donations, that were predicated on improvements to the existing building.

Dalrymple said she was “angry and sad” that the Selectboard moved to terminate White’s contract, and also said the vote by residents in October showed strong support for the project, including use of the entire $750,000, if need be.

“Our request to the board is if the town overwhelmingly supported the bond, why shouldn’t we be able to use that amount of money?” she said.

Trottier said he hopes to meet soon with the library directors.

John Dumville, a former selectman who is on the library board and also serves as president of the Royalton Historical Society, said he understands the Selectboard’s concern about costs but also noted that the Selectboard decided to change architects without consulting the library board.

“Hopefully, Jay (Barrett) will look at the plans and price it out and say, ‘wooh, this isn’t a bad deal,’ ” Dumville said. “If not, we might have to return the grants and some of the money people donated.”

Staff writer John P. Gregg can be reached at 603-727-3217 or jgregg@vnews.com.