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The project was developed over the last several years, starting with the 2016-2021 Long Range Plan. As part of that process, we carried out surveys of public use and desire, which made clear the mismatch between our current facility and our present/future needs. Armed with that information, we moved to take advantage of the 2016-17 funding round of the Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program, administered by the Library Commissioners. This program is designed to make grants of up to 40 percent of eligible costs for replacement, or major remodeling, of public libraries. (Scituate, Norwell, and Weymouth have all received grants in the last or current round, and have finished or soon will start their new libraries.) The application deadline was January 25, 2017. The provisional grant was offered to Hingham in July 2018, with an initial deadline for town acceptance of January 12, 2019 -- extended to Annual Town Meeting 2019, with a final deadline of April 30, 2019. That means the Town must decide by annual town meeting, at the latest, if it can or wishes to commit to the local share.
The 1999-2002 Library project was begun twenty years ago. In that project, the existing 1966 Library absorbed the adjacent former Town Hall, vacated when town government moved into the renovated Central Junior High School. The Town Hall wing was recycled into the Children’s Department. The project was paid for with a combination of private fund-raising, town debt financing, and a 50 percent bite [DM CHECK THIS NUMBER]out of the principal of the Library’s small endowment.
Since 2000, libraries have changed greatly in how they are used and in what people expect of them. Back then, the Library was more a place to get books or sit and read; today, it is vibrant community and educational center, a place to take Lifelong Learning classes, hear author readings, watch current movies, do Internet research for school or work, buy books at the used-book store, view art exhibits, listen to live music, bring children for enrichment activities, meet in groups for study, attend lectures, or come together to discuss social or community affairs.
The intensity and diversity of uses has grown enormously. Today, an average of a thousand people a day come to the Library, and many others try to come, but cannot find a meeting room or parking space. They often park along local streets, an unsafe expedient which irritates neighbors.
In 2009, adult program attendance was 8,815; in 2017 it was 18,695. In 2009, children’s program attendance was 5,871; in 2017, it was 10,708. To meet that demand, we don’t have enough electric outlets, tables or chairs, meeting rooms or program rooms, and our restrooms are woefully inadequate. Today, we sometimes have to hold important events off-site -- at Derby Academy, for example -- because there is no space large enough at the Library.
The 2000 project made the best use of an abandoned town building, but the old Town Hall wing is ill-suited to children’s and young adult services -- it has too many small rooms that can’t be seen from the circulation desk, too many stairwells and exits, and it is too far from the main entrance. Officials from the Library Commissioners were concerned about security in that area. We have even heard parents say they prefer to take their children to the Cohasset Library, where the children’s department is near the main desk -- as it should be. The Library needs a great, open, safe space for children (and their parents), indoors and out, as well as young adults, which the proposed design offers. And we would also have an outside children’s play area, with equipment, to be accessible only from inside the building.
Because of its narrow shape and interior load-bearing walls, the old Town Hall cannot be fixed. It needs to be replaced.
The grant program requires that a renovation project touch all parts of a building: the Commissioners don’t want to give little grants for minor changes, but to solve fully a town’s needs for the next twenty years. Better services for Children’s and Young Adults are a foremost need, but the rest of the Library also needs redesign and modernization. The proposed Library renovation would solve all the identified problems and meet real needs.
Sticker shock is inevitable when we buy something large for the first time in twenty years: a car, a house, or a year of college tuition. We believe these costs are justified.
First, the numbers are not inflated. This project meets the documented uses and needs that were studied and reported in the Building Program, a detailed analysis required by the Commissioners, and reviewed by them for accuracy. Also, the rules required us to pay for a professional cost estimate of the project as drawn, with a three-year cost-escalation, which is where the numbers came from. We did not guess at any of these numbers.
Second, the program rules require a proposal that will serve the town for at least twenty years. Though no one can say exactly how Library uses will change in that time, we were required to plug in state projections of population growth, to be sure that we not outgrow the building prematurely.
Third, the Trustees have committed to a $1.1 million capital fund campaign (which we are confident we can achieve), and the Commissioners have also offered us a $320,000 LEED grant, if we reach (as we will) certain standards of energy efficiency. These two amounts, combined with the $9.2 million state grant, would reduce the town share of the project to $15,671,145. We believe this is a fair price for a great Library.
These calculations can change, but if we achieve our capital campaign goals, our best estimate is that the net cost to the town would yield an increase to the property tax on the average home of about $xxx per year.
It is not true. The reimbursement formula is higher for a two-town than a one-town proposal, but nowhere near 75 percent. The Hingham proposal would cost $26.2 million. The current grant is about 35 percent of eligible costs. For a two-town proposal costing $30 million (and a brand-new, two-town Library would cost much more than that -- see below), the grant percentage would be about 54 percent. That’s more than a one-town grant, to be sure; even so, there are strong arguments against the two-town idea.
First, under state rules, a Library for two towns would have to be substantially larger than for just one, because of the combined populations (23,000 in Hingham, 10,500 in Hull). Careful analysis, which follows a state template required by the Commissioners, shows that a bigger Library would not fit on the 66 Leavitt Street site. Indeed, with setback rules, on-site septic and expanded parking, the current project barely fits there. There is no other suitable, available town-owned land in Hingham for a bigger building -- the grant rules required us to investigate that question, too. That means either that land would have to be purchased on the high-flying private market, or the Library would have to be built on a site in Hull. The first option would be fantastically more expensive, and the second would require the people of Hingham to drive to Hull to visit the Library. We don’t think they would want to do that.
Second, creating a new regional Library would mean abolishing the Hingham Public Library as it has existed for 146 years, and repealing the state law that established a public corporation and local board of trustees “for the purpose of maintaining a public Library in Hingham.” The ownership, control, and funding of the Library would be shared by two towns. The grant rules provide that if the facility is not maintained as a Library for twenty years, the state’s money must be given back in full. That means that if either town dropped out of the arrangement, or radically cut its financial support, the other town would be left holding the bag.
Third, regionalization is a desirable goal, but libraries are already the most regionalized of local services. Hingham and Hull are part of the Old Colony Library Network, a consortium of 29 public and three academic libraries, in which residents of all the towns have free access to borrowing and other privileges in all member libraries, using a common catalog. We freely share services and events, too. Building a two-town Library would increase construction costs, scrap an established management system that has given us the fine Library we have, and give away local control --- for no added benefits in regionalization.
Yes. Some of the Trustee funds committed to preparation of the grant application were allocated to concepts for three lesser projects, each with an estimated cost -- two involving less construction, and one involving no construction. Our purpose in doing this was to show what might be done at the Library -- aside from doing nothing -- if the state grant is not accepted by the Town. The alternative concepts, which are not full designs but only sketches of what might be done, are available here or at the Library.
Two points should be borne in mind, however. First, in the view of the Trustees, these alternatives do not meet the Library’s real needs for the present and future, as the recommended project does. Second, these projects would have to be funded entirely by the town; no state money would be available.
Yes, we could have. However, while the funding rounds normally occur about every five to seven years, there is no guarantee that the Legislature will appropriate the actual money when the time comes. The money was available this year. In seven years, there could be a recession going on, or a state budget crisis, and the money might not be appropriated. And in seven years -- no surprise -- the project will cost more.
Yes, we can. But there is a risk in doing so. Competition for the grants is strong, with a preference given to needy communities. Next time around, we might not make the cut; indeed, Hingham applied in 1998 but was rejected. The state grant, by unanimous vote of the Commission, is now on the table for Hingham; it might not be, next time around. Local support and commitment is an important factor in the Commissioners’ decisions. If we decline to accept the money this time, that history will be on the record when we apply again.
We hope not to need an off-site building this time. Our architects -- who have designed many public Library renovations -- believe that it would be possible temporarily to move the Children’s and Young Adult department into the existing old Library during the demolition of the former Town Hall wing and construction of its replacement. Once that new wing is finished, all collections and operations can move into it, while renovations to the old building proceed.
Complete exterior and interior artist’s conceptions would require more funding. The single color exterior view, the basic sketches of the other sides, and the interior floor plans were required by the grant program for the application to be accepted, and were all funded by the Board of Trustees out of the Library endowment -- no Town funds have been used. They are professional and as detailed as possible. If the grant is accepted by the town, the next phase would include hiring an architect to prepare a complete detailed design with visual concepts and finish details, following the specifications in the schematic drawings.
The Trustees are not saying that the Library is more important than the other needs. We know that the townspeople, in their judgment, will make the decisions on what projects they need and want, in what order, and at what price. We strongly believe, however, that a fine Library is part of the suite of services a community such as ours needs and deserves in this busy and complicated society.
The Library is the true community center. Apart from public health and safety services, and highways, the public Library is the town resource used by more people, more kinds of people, than any other. Not everybody uses the schools, or the bathing beach, or the harbor, or Bare Cove Park, or the sports fields, or the Country Club pool or golf course, or the Senior Center. But everybody, both genders and all social classes, from the tiniest children to the eldest seniors and all those in between, uses the Library. It is beloved as few Town institutions are, by many thousands of people who use it every year, and the hundreds who volunteer there freely. It is also an important partner to other town services, especially the Senior Center and the schools. For example, for seniors it hosts classes in lifelong learning. For students, it is an essential study facility (which is why, in the spring, we stay open late during High School finals week).
As Trustees with a responsibility in state law, we see it as our duty to bring forward this opportunity to give the best in Library services to the town, with the assistance and support of the Board of Library Commissioners. The state is offering this grant to the people, not to the Trustees, and we know that only the people can decide whether they can or want to accept it. We hope that they will.