As renovation costs soar, libraries in Deerfield and Orange to seek state’s help 

  • Tilton Library at 75 North Main St. in South Deerfield. STAFF FILE PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

  • South Deerfield’s Tilton Library, pictured during its Monday Night Music concert series on July 11, received a roughly $3.94 million grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners. STAFF FILE PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

  • Jason Sullivan-Flynn, children’s librarian at the Wheeler Memorial Library in Orange, works in the children’s room. The library received a nearly $5.22 million grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Library Director Jessica Magelaner looks down at the crowded stacks from the mezzanine in the Wheeler Memorial Library in Orange, which received a nearly $5.22 million grant from the state Board of Library Commissioners. Constructions estimates are higher than expected. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 8/16/2022 2:52:35 PM
Modified: 8/16/2022 2:49:07 PM

With higher-than-anticipated construction cost estimates rolling in for renovations to the Wheeler Memorial and Tilton libraries, local officials may band together with others around the state to ask for additional funding.

The potential partnership, which comes out of a conversation between Orange Selectboard Chair Jane Peirce and Deerfield Selectboard member Carolyn Shores Ness, comes in the wake of both towns’ libraries receiving grants from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) in July to fund portions of extensive renovation projects.

“I got a call from Carolyn Shores Ness asking me if we thought it would be reasonable to get us and Deerfield, Westborough and one other town … and petition the governor to make some money available,” Peirce said at an Orange Selectboard meeting last week, noting there has been an influx of federal money coming to the state due to the pandemic. “Clearly, COVID is a lot of the reason why prices are so high.”

The funding challenge comes from the specific grant process used by the MBLC that requires libraries to apply for the grant years in advance, setting a grant award in stone, which means unexpected cost changes — especially those caused by the pandemic — are not accounted for. The Wheeler Memorial Library applied for its nearly $5.22 million grant in 2016 and the Tilton applied for its roughly $3.94 million grant in 2017.

Wheeler Memorial Library Director Jessica Magelaner said the town does not have an updated estimated price for a reconstruction of the library, which would include accessibility improvements, repairing a leaky roof and replacing peeling plaster. The original price estimate was approximately $9.9 million.

Peirce said it’s disappointing that the process takes so long and could possibly torpedo Orange’s chance at renovating its library. If neither town’s residents approve borrowing for the projects, then they must start the process at the beginning.

“It’s too bad that you put plans together and get a price, then you have to wait six years,” she said, characterizing the funding of the library as an “uphill” battle. “I personally think it’s extremely important for this community to embrace this opportunity. … It would be wonderful to have an accessible library.”

Nancy Maynard, a member of Tilton Library’s board of trustees and chair of the trustees’ fundraising arm Tilton Fund Inc., said the extensive reconstruction and renovation of the library is estimated at $12.3 million, compared to the original estimate of nearly $8 million.

“It’s not a total surprise but we were hopeful it wasn’t going to be that,” Maynard said, adding the trustees are open to partnering with other towns to secure additional funding. “We’re willing to look at potential opportunities that could support all the library projects. … You have to be positive but with some reservation because we don’t want to put all of our eggs in one basket.”

Orange and Deerfield aren’t alone when it comes to costly price increases for their libraries. For Amherst’s Jones Library, the so-called hard costs, including construction of the building and landscaping, were pegged at $26.9 million when the project was approved; those costs are now estimated at $38.5 million, if the project breaks ground in October 2023. The increase is being attributed to rising inflation that’s hurting construction projects nationwide.

Shores Ness said she has reached out to Orange and Westborough already — both of which are “intrigued” by the idea — and she plans to reach out to the other four towns that received MBLC grants: Gloucester, Seekonk, Westford and Grafton. The plan, she added, is to ask the state to allocate American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money to these towns to help pay for the increased material and labor costs.

“The idea is to band all seven towns together, with their legislative delegations, and go to the governor,” Shores Ness said by phone. “(ARPA), it was meant to mitigate problems caused by COVID, and COVID definitely impacted the construction costs of these libraries.”

Massachusetts received approximately $5.3 billion in ARPA money in May 2021 and has appropriated nearly $3 billion of those funds, according to a Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Fund on Mass.gov.

Magelaner said she is interested in working with the other towns because it’s an opportunity to take financial pressure off Orange residents.

“I think it would be a fantastic idea,” Magelaner said by phone. “I hope the state will help us out.”

With prices of each library increasing by at least several million dollars apiece, Shores Ness said appropriating money to help these towns would be a drop in the bucket for the state.

“It’s not a huge amount of money, but it would make these libraries happen or not happen,” Shores Ness said. “Every community is in the same boat — we can’t afford these projects at the current construction costs.”

Both libraries are in the process of fundraising drives, with each already having raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. Tilton Library Director Candace Bradbury-Carlin previously said the library will host many different events raising awareness about the library’s need and its role in the Deerfield community, while Magelaner said Wheeler Memorial Library is in the process of planning several over events.

“We have not set a hard (goal) yet,” Magelaner said. “Right now it’s just as much as possible.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.


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