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Selectmen support Libby Museum rehabilitation

September 24, 2020
WOLFEBORO — The Board of Selectmen voted 3-2 to support the $2.3 million proposed Libby Museum rehabilitation project at its meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 16. The decision before the board was whether to support Alba Architect's rehabilitation design or go for its design for a rehabilitation and expansion project pegged at $2.9 million.

Selectman Brad Harriman, the select board's liaison to the Friends of the Libby, and Selectman Dave Senecal voted in the negative, stating their preference for the more extensive project.

The decision followed months of review of the plans and discussion of the pros and cons of each. The Friends of the Libby have been attempting to raise funds throughout the past year for the $2.9 million project without a significant result, leading Selectman Paul O'Brien, Chairman of the Libby Board of Trustees (comprised of the town board) to point out that such an endeavor would likely be a bonded project, which requires a three fifths majority.

A final determination of whether to go forward with a warrant article would be anticipated at the end of 2021. At that point, said O'Brien, the board would "take a look at fundraising and make a judgement on whether voters have an appetite" for the expenditure.

"It does not compete well against other projects," O'Brien warned, citing comparisons to raising money for the highway budget or infrastructure projects.

He suggested that the town hold public information and input sessions to bring attention to the project and shore up eventual support at the polls. Fundraising would continue in order to help offset the amount needed to be raised by taxpayers.

Data presented to the board from 2015 – 2020 shows that capital improvements and design studies appropriated for the Libby come to $615,000. That includes the $300,000 voted for capital reserve last March. And the board voted during the September 16 meeting to add another $100,000 to the Libby Capital Reserve account.

Libby Museum Director Catriona Lennon stated that it would be easier to fund raise for the project with the greater vision and said she would like to remind the board that there would be no dedicated room for children's activities, or artists, and that the rehabilitation does not include room for exhibit storage.

Selectman Linda Murray said no other museum is open year round, and said there are concerns about parking in the expansion plan. She added that children's programs and art classes have taken place in the museum for years.

"I think the Libby is beautiful as it is," commented O'Brien.

He noted that if the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston receives a new collection, it doesn't seek to expand, it rotates the exhibits.

"The Web site represents a project that the Board of Selectmen has never approved...The Libby needs to be repaired because it is broken," he added.

The value of the museum to the community will be put to the test with the next round of fundraising for the $2.3 million. Maggie Stier spoke at the conclusion of the meeting in support of scheduling brainstorming sessions and surveys to involve the townspeople.

"Museums are part of the economic development of the town," commented Kathy Eaton, Chairman of the town's Economic Development Committee, who added that public/private partnerships have been important. The renovation and expansion of Town Hall and the Wolfeboro Public Library are cases in point.

Mike Cryans
John MacDonald
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