Jul 28, 2014
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Hail Mary: New Belmont Library Proposal Makes One Final Pitch

Will seek to build on current site using West Springfield's successful effort as a template to save the "new" library project.

Hail Mary: New Belmont Library Proposal Makes One Final Pitch

If you're in the Belmont Public Library, look for the book with the catalogue number 818.4 TWAIN; "Mark Twain" by Geoffrey C. Ward and Dayton Duncan based on a documentary film directed by Ken Burns. 

In the book, you'll find Twain's famous (correct) statement "[T]he report of my death was an exaggeration." 

And just as Twain's "final" illness was premature (by 12 years), so could the reported "death" of the proposed $19.5 million, 42,000 square-foot new Belmont Public Library after the Belmont School Committee in April refused to provide a sports field for the project. 

Before the Belmont Board of Selectmen on Monday, June 17, Matt Lowrie, chair of the Belmont Board of Library Trustees said the board will seek to follow the example of supporters of a new library in West Springfield which persuaded the state last year to allow the use of an alternative location to build the structure.

The alternative site in Belmont? On top of the current library location on Concord Avenue.

But the Belmont Trustees will need to hurry; they have a mere two weeks – July 1 – to provide the  Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners with the information that it should enjoy the same consideration as West Springfield while retaining the $7.5 million grant Belmont received in 2012 to build the project.

The MBLC will meet July 11 to decide the request. 

"West Springfield ... had more time for a new proposal. Ours is happening very fast so we are doing the best we can to put this together a full and complete package for the [MBLC] to consider," Lowrie told Belmont Patch after his presentation. 

The Selectmen is prepared to support the Trustees' last ditch effort to save the project and the millions in grant funding. 

"I'd hate to lose that [money] so you have our support," said Selectmen chair Mark Paolillo. 

The last-minute revival of the new library proposal comes less than two months after the Belmont School Committee appeared to end any hope that the Trustees would have the opportunity to replace the nearly 50-year-old structure experts report has outlived its usefulness. 

One of the clear requirements in the State Commissioners grant is that the proposed library is located on the exact site in the grant proposal. The only exemption is if historic artifacts or hazardous waste is located on the proposed site, said Lowrie. 

But investigating any "final straws" the Trustees could grasp onto, Lowrie discovered the  state's Library Commissioners voted unanimously in July 2012 to allow West Springfield to switch the location of the $17 million library building project when its School Committee decided to renovate the school building it had previously gave to the city.

Lowrie believes Belmont can argue that it is in a similar predicament as West Springfield.

In addition, Belmont voted in 2005 to approve the building of a new library at the current site in an earlier submission to the MBLC, giving the state reason to approve the "alternative" site, he said.

Lowrie said the "new, new" library proposal would "be comparable" to the $19.5 million project due to the number of activities and new services it would provide, essentially adding 15 percent to the total area now being used. 

One glaring question that will need to be answered will be parking as the new library will need more than 100 spaces. Yet Lowrie points to the $800,000 in the current proposal that would have reimburse the School Department for the land.

"We can now address the parking issue," said Lowrie, suggesting that there could be parking above and below ground. 

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