Condition of Wadleigh library building called ‘disgraceful’

MILFORD – The time is right to build a new public library, several people said at the town deliberative session Saturday. Others said Milford is still suffering from the recession and the project should wait.

But no one argued that a new Wadleigh Memorial Library building is not needed.

After library Director Michelle Sampson’s video presentation that showed problems with moisture, flooding and rotten windows, one person in the audience called the deteriorating building “appalling” and “disgraceful.”

In the video, facilities manager Joel Trafford shows the many patchwork repairs, that the library has undergone over the years. “We are now repairing the repairs,” he said.

The building’s spaces are also considered inadequate and inefficient, and Sampson warned that delay would likely increase the cost.

“There is never going to be a good time to build this … This is the lowest it is ever going to cost,” she said. “Bond rates are the lowest they have been in a long time.”

The project has been on the town’s Capital Improvement Committee project list 14 times since 1995, but was pushed off in favor of other projects, including the ambulance facility and the police station. This is the first year it was on the Town Meeting warrant.

The library “boosts the local economy, complementing, not competing, with small businesses,” said Sampson. “It anchors the downtown” and brings “enormous foot traffic.”

The Board of Selectmen, however, voted 4-1 against the project, and the budget committee’s vote is split.

After Selectman Kevin Federico said the project “absolutely needs to be done,” but the town should wait until the bond for the Brox property, purchased in 2000, is retired, budget committee Chairman Matt Lydon said “the timing is actually perfect” because the Brox bond will be retired this year and taxpayers wouldn’t begin paying for the library until 2016.

Structurally unsound

The Wadleigh building was built in two parts, one in the 1950s and the newer one in the 1980s. Resident Steve Takacs suggested razing and replacing the older section, to cut the cost.

That was the initial idea, said architect Ron LaMarre, whose firm, LaVallee Brensinger, created the plans. But the older section is in better shape and the 1980s building is structurally unsound. The $5.4 million plan (a donation would cover $500,000 of that) calls for razing the building and building a two-story, 8,100-square-foot replacement.

To fix or replace all the problems would cost nearly $3 million, La Marre said, “and the town gets basically the same” building, and none of the space inadequacies and inefficiencies are dealt with.

Voters put the $5.4 million question on the ballot for the March 10 election. It needs a 60 percent majority to pass. An amendment from Takacs to mention the interest on the bond was defeated by an overwhelming show of cards. Another amendment passed – it adds a sentence saying the Library Board of Trustees supports the project 7-0.

The new library would have a tax impact of a bit less than $66 on a house assessed at $200,000.

The meeting lasted more than seven hours and began with about 60 voters and ended with about 25.

There are 26 articles on the warrant, but the library plan and a proposal to sell gravel and other earth materials from the town-owned Brox property took up much of the time.

Default budget

The budget committee does not support – with a vote of 6-1, and two abstentions – the town’s proposed $13.7 million operating budget, which is 5.8 percent more than the adopted budget for 2014. The committee’s majority maintains that “given the historic trend of under-spending the prior year’s budget … the default budget should be sufficient to meet the town’s obligations,” according to
its report.

The committee also does not support Article 23, which would allow the town to sell earth resources from a portion of the Brox property – an article that selectmen support unanimously.

“Without a voter-
approved plan to develop this portion of the Brox property, there is no hurry to start a gravel mining operation,” says the budget committee report.

The Board of Selectmen supports the plan, saying the town needs the revenue, and voters in 2000 were promised the gravel would be sold to offset the $1.9 million cost of the property.

Selling the earth materials, would “help pay for millions of dollars of capital needs over the next six years,” said Selectman Mark Fougere, and the town has a “rare opportunity for more revenue.”

Near the end of the 90-minute discussion, an amendment from Conservation Commission Chairwoman Audrey Fraizer that would have limited the town’s ability to sell the earth materials failed. The commission is not opposed to the mining, she said, but feels the town is acting too quickly.

Some of the other 24 warrant articles that will go on the March 10 ballot:

? A $792,000 bond to extend the town water main onto west Elm Street. This article requires a 60 percent vote. Water and sewer commissioners said the extension would help improve this section of town, and the Board Selectmen and Budget Committee unanimously support it.

? A $216,000 bond for a storm sewer video observation equipment, which requires a 60 percent vote.

? A $430,000 to replace the Jennison Road bridge, with 80 percent of the cost paid by the state.

? $175,000 to go into a bridge replacement capital reserve.

? A five-year lease/purchase for a replacement dump truck, costing $39,050 a year.

? A five-year lease/purchase for a sidewalk tractor plow, costing $$31,650 a year. This article is not supported by either selectmen or the budget committee.

? The budget committee and selectmen are sharply divided on Article 22, re-opening Jones Road to eastbound Route 101A traffic, though it has no tax impact. The committee believes there are unknown costs, but selectmen say they are only looking for permission to explore the issue.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or
kcleveland@cabinet.com.