At a special meeting held at the Hingham Public Library Wednesday, February 13, the Board of Trustees of the Library voted to withdraw an article on a proposed renovation project from the warrant of the 2019 Annual Town Meeting. The vote was nine to five.
The article, which had been approved by the Board at the January regular meeting, had proposed acceptance of a $9.1 million construction grant offered last July to the Town by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC), part of the 2016-17 funding round of the Public Library Construction Grant Program.
The Trustees’ vote followed a unanimous vote Feb. 7 by the Board of Selectmen, recommending no action on the proposed article. In addition, Paul Healey, chairman of the Board of Selectmen and an ex-officio Trustee, in a letter strongly urged the Trustees to withdraw the article.
The grant was directed at a proposed renovation and expansion project, developed over the last three years by a Trustee committee and Library staff, in consultation with the MBLC. In order to receive the grant, Town Meeting would have had to vote to appropriate the so-called “local share,” that is, the balance of the total costs.
The project would have demolished part of the former Town Hall portion of the Library, and built a new wing to house a new children’s and young adult section. The rest of the Library would also have been renovated, and parking would have been expanded.
The projected cost in the January 2017 application to the MBLC was approximately $26.2 million, although inflation and other increases threatened recently to push the cost closer to $30 million. The grant, along with any funds raised by a proposed capital fund drive, would have reduced the net cost to the Town.
There was discussion at the meeting of possible changes in the proposed design that could have held the cost close to the original figure, but with the absolute MBLC deadline of April 30 for Town approval, these efforts could not mature and be fully reviewed by the Trustees, or the Advisory Committee, in a timely fashion. In addition, there were differing views among the Trustees about the cost and scale of the project, in light of other impending town needs.
With the rejection of the grant, the offer expires and the MBLC will allocate the money to other towns on the waiting list. The next grant round is expected no earlier than 2025, and possibly later, according to MBLC officials, and availability of funds will depend on legislative appropriation.