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Budget Committee votes against new Tuftonboro library

THE TUFTONBORO BUDGET COMMITTEE voted 5-3, on Jan. 14, to withhold support form the selectmen's warrant article for the $2.6 million library building proposal. Chairman of the Library Trustees Gordon Hunt (center, back to the camera) looks on. Committee member Wayne Black and Chairman of the Board of Selectmen Carolyn Sundquist, who voted in the affirmative are to his left. Member Bob Theve is at his right. Hands up in opposition are (l-r) Committee Chairman Ted Wright, and members Tyler Phillips, Bob McWhirter, Gary Chehames and Stan Janeczko. The complete meeting will be aired on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014 at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. The channel on digital TV is 121-3. (Courtesy photo from Joe Kowolski) (click for larger version)
January 23, 2014
TUFTONBORO — The Tuftonboro Budget Committee voted 5-3, on Jan. 14, against the $2.6 million article on the Board of Selectmen's 2014 Town Warrant to build and equip a new library at its Jan. 14 meeting.

Application of about $500,000 in capital reserve and gifts will be applied to reduce the amount to be raised to approximately $2.1 million.

The vote followed close to two hours of discussion.

A similar proposal received 60 percent of the vote in 2009 – a substantial majority, but not the 66 percent required to proceed. In the meantime, the needs recognized in a 2004 facility study have only increased.

Following analysis of the town's capital capacity, the Capital Improvements Program Committee (CIP) has given the project its blessing, citing historically low interest rates and labor costs.

The library is well over 50 percent capacity, said Chairman of the Library Trustees Gordon Hunt, who told the committee that some of the library's collection is, by necessity, stored off site, a situation that he said "degrades the collection." When something new goes on the shelf, something else has to come off.

Books now line the walls of the meeting room and computer stations, very much in demand, also are situated there, compressing the space available for meetings and library programs.

The new building, located behind the present library, would be code compliant and ADA accessible, noted Hunt, adding that material costs are starting to go up, and as the economy improves, labor costs go up.

In answer to a question on tax impact, he offered CIP figures (complete reports are at the town offices) that project that the building will cost 23 cents per $1,000; in other words, $23 per year for a resident whose property is valued at $100,000.

Peter Cooperdock estimates the cost per square foot is to be around $226 sq. including the site work, a price deemed competitive by those present.

Effect of wetlands on design

Explaining why a new building is on the warrant, rather than an expansion, Hunt said that expansion of the present building is limited by the wetlands on the property and the building was not constructed to support a second floor. Chairman Ted Wright questioned that premise. Co-Library Director Christie Sarles, said that he is welcome to view the wetlands study available at the library.

After the wetlands issue came up in discussion several times, Sarles, expressing surprise, commented, " I thought we dealt with that years ago" and said if she had known that people were not aware of that factor in the decision to build a new building, she would gladly have brought the study with her.

Hunt continued, saying that the building would use the same footprint as the previous proposal, but with some modifications. Architect Pete Tennant said the design takes into account the flexibility needed in today's libraries for ever-changing technology use.

Digital media effect on library use

Committee member Gary Chehames asked how such an outlay could be justified considering the increasing use of e books. "Hard books far outweigh electronic media," responded Library Trustee Paul Matlock. He elaborated that electronic books are restricted by sellers, and said that a person comes to the library to "find something you weren't expecting to find." He pointed out the cost savings of $10 to $20 to borrowers, who do not need to buy a book.

Sarles said that there are portable WiFi hotspots that people can check out of the library, too.

Guy Pike interjected that the library could spend $50,000 on laptops to check out to solve the problem of space needs.

"For $2.6 million, you can give everyone in town a laptop and access to the internet," commented Wright.

"Am I hearing that libraries are going to disappear?" Committee member Bob Theve asked. He went on to decry the encroachment of electronic media on the use of books. "I'm starting to hear that our libraries and our children not going to visit the library and they're not going to read, unless they're staring at a screen – I hope that's not the case."

Sarles, Selectmen Chairman Carolyn Sundquist and Tennant all spoke of the value of the library as a place where people can socialize, whether in finding the book they need, doing research, participating in the popular library programs or attending a committee meeting.

Former library building use

Committee member Bob McWhirter said he doesn't use the library much, but that he agrees it is a good service. He then expressed reservations about the cost of the operating budget and moving forward on the library proposal without knowing the cost of moving the police department into the space.

Wright asked if the space was adequate for the police department. Sundquist replied that the architect has said yes, it is. Declaring that the proposal would push capital capacity "over the top," he recalled a time when the police department was next in line. Wayne Black asserted that to use it for the police department, the library would have to move out.

Hunt objected to tying the two issues together, saying, "We stand on our own issues."

"Something has to happen," said Black. "The library is full, some material is not available to people. I have to turn sideways to get down the aisle. I'm a big guy." While saying that $2.6 million is an "awful lot of money," he also projected that it "should last the town for another 50 years."

"Selling" proposal to voters

Committee member Tyler Phillips declared, "I'm open for a library. I'm a contributor." But he said that people have approached him with a lot of questions about cost and the need. As far as he was concerned there's "a vacuum out there, no one has heard too much…the worst thing that could happen would be to have their thoughts prevail. It could be an ignorant vote!"

He repeated that he is proud of the current library and said that it enhances the community but asked why there was no independent committee as in the case of the fire department.

Hunt replied that the trustees filled that role, and Theve commented that the independent committee was established because of "the turn downs of the fire station."

Phillips indicated that he would like to see such a committee and meetings that the public could attend. Hunt, a member of the Public Safety Building committee along with Phillips, recalled that people "weren't lining up at the door" to attend.

"So much here is missing," said Phillips. "I want more information." Gary Chehames stepped in to say, "There's no question that they've done their homework, but is there a need?"

Black commented, "The issue of selling is not our concern, it's the library's concern. We shouldn't be overly concerned about whether they are doing a good job."

Each of the selectmen offered their reasons for supporting the project. In the final analysis, Sundquist said she wanted to give the voters the opportunity to vote for it and assured the board that the trustees would get the word out.

"A couple of years ago," said Theve, "we spent a long period of time [on this] and figured out that the current building is not able to be properly or economically expanded and that they would move out and make room for the police department."

The Budget Committee declined by a 5-3 vote to offer its support. Wright, Phillips, McWhirter, Chehames and Janeczko voted no. Sundquist, Theve and Black voted yes.

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