Phillipston board explores funding for repairs at Phillips Library

Phillips Free Public Library in Phillipston. Town officials hope to restore the level of the floor in the 232-year-old structure.

Phillips Free Public Library in Phillipston. Town officials hope to restore the level of the floor in the 232-year-old structure. PHOTO BY GREG VINE

By GREG VINE

For the Athol Daily News

Published: 12-20-2023 5:01 PM

PHILLIPSTON – Phillips Free Public Library Trustee Sylvia Healey met with the Selectboard on Dec. 13 to present two quotes for lifting and strengthening the floor of the 232-year-old building.

One contractor, Art Leray General Contracting of Winchendon, offered to do the job for $47,900. C.M. Contracting of Templeton quoted a price of $47,000. Healey is hoping to present a proposal for funding to the town’s Community Preservation Committee (CPC).

Healey suggested the town go with Art Leray General Contracting, despite its higher quote. Board Chair Bernie Malouin described the quotes as being “on the high side,” and that they would need to go out to bid.

Healey added that the full scope of work isn’t yet known.

“We’ll know more of what needs to be done,” she said, “once they remove part of the floor and can see underneath what’s going on under there.”

“It’s rotted out under there,” said Finance Committee chair Tom Specht. “What’s the safety in terms of the building. Is someone going to open the library one of these days and it’s going to be caved-in, or the floor is going to be such that we can’t use the library.”

Specht urged the Selectboard to “fast-track” the project by using funds in the town’s building and maintenance account, rather than waiting for it to be approved via a grant process. It was also suggested that the money could come from the town’s ARPA funds or the Community Preservation Committee.

Selectboard member Gerhard Fandreyer said he had been under the library several years ago, explaining, “From what I saw, the beams underneath are not really rotted. What it is, is the beams are balanced on piles of rocks, and over time those rocks are settling into the ground. So, it’s not that the rafters are rotten, they’re settling because there are no real supports; they just need some shoring.”

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The board chair then offered a note of caution, stating that the work specified in the quotes isn’t necessarily the work that actually needs to be done.

“If you brought these quotes to us and they were like $10,000,” Malouin continued, “we might say, ‘Let’s go for it – we’ll take a chance for$10,000.’ But when we start talking $50,000, and we do this, and then in two years we have the same problem – before I spent $50,000 of my money, I would hire an engineer.”

Malouin said he had no problem with Healey submitting an application to the CPC to cover the costs. In the meantime, he said, the town should find the funds to “have an engineer come out, take a look, and tell us what they’re recommendations are, give us an idea of what it’s going to cost.”

Adding to the issues that must be considered, Tim Healey, a member of the Community Preservation Committee, said that CPC monies for historic preservation don’t cover putting a cement foundation underneath a building, as that doesn’t qualify as restoration.

“If you were to put a stone foundation underneath there, that would be one thing, but a cement foundation isn’t covered,” Healey said.

Ultimately, the Selectboard voted to support Sylvia Healey in her attempt to secure nearly $50,000 in CPC funding for the project while, at the same time, exploring the possibility of securing the services of a structural engineer to provide detailed information on exactly what needs to be done at the library. Funds for hiring an engineer would likely come from the town’s building and maintenance account.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com.