Tensions Rise Over Royalton 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 Correspondent
Published: 5/3/2018 12:07:32 AM
Modified: 5/4/2018 11:28:23 AM

South Royalton — Complaints about the lack of a microphone at Wednesday night’s special Selectboard meeting presaged a lengthy and rancorous debate over the future of Royalton Memorial Library.

The meeting followed several earlier in the spring to evaluate options for renovating or replacing the library, whose trustees have sought upgrades to the aging building for 20 years.

“Our grants came in specifically for this building,” said Cynthia Dalrymple, the group’s president. The trustees, many of whom came sporting “We Love Our Library” pins, support renovating the building using a $750,000 bond passed by voters in October.

However, Selectboard members expressed concern about funding the proposed construction, given that the four bids the town received all exceeded the bonded amount.

“We’re not against this library, not at all” said Selectboard Chairman Larry Trottier, “but we are responsible for the townspeople’s money.”

Selectboard member Sandy Conrad cautioned against fully funding the construction project, which calls for an addition and the installation of an elevator.

“There are people who have come to me who are concerned about the increases in taxes,” she said.

Lister Jeff Barcelow said the library renovation would boost the annual property tax bill by $45 for each $200,000 of valuation.

Some attendees criticized the Selectboard for the perceived secrecy of members’ deliberations. John Dumville noted the body had twice entered executive session at recent meetings, and had abruptly fired architect Jay White.

“They cut the library board off before they had a chance to work with the architect,” he said.

“If you had allowed us to work with Jay we would have been able to bring the cost down.”

During the meeting, Dalrymple announced that library trustees had hired Montpelier attorney Dan Richardson to represent them, and informed town counsel Paul Giuliani that he would be reaching out to him. Some of the townspeople accused the Selectboard of ignoring their will in not being willing to support the project.

“Clearly there’s a lot of tension here,” said Francis Flannery. The Bethel resident and retired teacher proceeded to defend the library and advocate it be made handicapped-accessible. “A library is part of a town’s identity,” Flannery said.

Jay Barrett Jr., an architect the Selectboard hired to advise it on the way forward, spoke extensively at the beginning of the meeting. He noted that, while Royalton’s problems are distinctive, the town is not the first “that has had to sort through what do with their library.”

In this case, he said, the bid spread — $1.025 million to $1.2 million — suggests that the project, as currently conceived, could not be negotiated down. “The project is over-budget,” he said. “There’s no escaping that.” He then cited another intractable problem, hinting at the back-and-forth to come. “You have a relationship that needs to be rebuilt between the Selectboard and the trustees,” he said.

Gabe Brison-Trezise can be reached at g.brisontrezise@gmail.com.

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