Following vote against borrowing, Wheeler library trustees, building committee to continue fundraising

  • Wheeler Memorial Library in Orange. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

  • Wheeler Memorial Library in Orange. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 11/14/2022 4:16:25 PM
Modified: 11/14/2022 4:17:09 PM

ORANGE — The Wheeler Memorial Library’s trustees and building committee members are determined not to give up hope after voters rejected a debt-exclusion override for the building’s first major renovation since its 1914 construction.

It was decided at a joint meeting on Thursday that the library will continue in-house fundraising and raffles until Director Jessica Magelaner learns if the town will receive American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money, which would make a big impact on any decision the trustees make in regards to renovations or finding a new spot for the library. Residents voted 1,291-1,233 last week against borrowing up to $10.4 million to supplement a $5.2 million grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners.

The library at 49 East Main St. is falling into disrepair, officials say. At a presentation at Town Hall on Nov. 1, Magelaner said the building’s basement — where the children’s section is — has extremely poor ventilation and relies almost entirely on ceiling fans and a dehumidifier. The library is also in desperate need of a new roof, as the current one regularly leaks, and the building has no dedicated staff space and just one small bathroom. The facility is also not wheelchair-accessible.

“We’ve been trying to renovate the Wheeler since 1988,” Magelaner reminded the trustees and Library Building Committee members at Thursday’s meeting.

According to previous information from the committee, the project would cost residents $42 per quarter per $100,000 valuation of their home, or $84 per quarter if their home is valued at $200,000. Payments would begin in three years and decline over the following 20 years.

If voters had approved the spending on Nov. 8, the library renovation would have had to have been approved by a two-thirds majority at a Special Town Meeting on Dec. 8. It was voted Thursday night to have that particular article removed from the Special Town Meeting warrant because the article is now obsolete.

At Thursday’s meeting, resident Janice Lanou read a statement she wrote to express her disappointment over the town’s vote. She said the results left her extremely sad and angry, and the first issue that must be resolved is the leaking roof.

“Without a good roof, the building will continue to deteriorate until it won’t be usable. The problem is, how does the library come up with the money to fix the roof once and for all?” she read. “Architects who have examined the front roof during previous attempts to receive construction money from the MBLC have concluded that the problem is the original design. They have told us that it should be redesigned given the weather we deal with in New England. So it probably won’t be as simple as to just fix a few individual leaks and hoping the job is done.”

Lanou, a former Wheeler Memorial Library director of 22 years, suggested the Library Building Committee remain active, with the addition of a few residents who are willing to serve.

“It should be a diverse group — male, female, young, old, library users and non-library users, people with knowledge and experience to add to the mix,” she said.

Lanou also said a fundraising group could research additional grant money, ask for donations and set up an account on the crowdfunding platform GoFundMe. She suggested some cost-saving measures that could be taken, noting that local contractors could be hired to lower the cost and make it a project “the community is more apt to fund.” She feels Orange residents would enjoy local businesses having a chance to be involved in the construction. Lanou also said a new single-level library could be built, eliminating the need for stairs or an elevator.

Magelaner mentioned it might be wise to give up on this grant round and focus on the next one. The MBLC grant expires in January.

Candy Cross, vice chair of the trustees, said taxpayers have “miraculously” funded other town building projects, like the second fire station in the village of Tully. Magelaner said it would be cheaper to build a new library or move the library’s materials to a new spot. She said she will not force people to use a leaky, non-accessible building.

“That’s not good librarianship,” she said.

Architect Philip O’Brien, attending the meeting remotely, said he and Project Manager Daniel Pallotta recently revisited the library for the first time in about 12 months. O’Brien compared the experience to not seeing your high school friends’ children for long periods of time.

“We were surprised,” he said. “There was significantly more water damage than the last time we were there, which was about a year ago.”

Magelaner said a kind volunteer, who she declined to name without the man’s consent, has repeatedly patched the library’s roof but recently told her it is out of control.

Nate Johnson, chair of the trustees, told the Greenfield Recorder he was very disappointed in the Nov. 8 vote at the polls, but mentioned fundraising will continue in order to defray as much of the eventual cost as possible.

“There’s still a lot of support out there for the library, without a doubt. We’re still moving forward and will do our best to find a functional library,” he said Friday morning. “It’s not really about having a new, shiny library — it’s about the fact that the Wheeler Memorial Library is pretty poor condition.”

Johnson, 41, remarked that he is a trustee of a library he has not been able to access for about 31 years. Confined to a wheelchair due to cerebral palsy, he has not been inside the Wheeler since he was 9 or 10 years old, when his mother and brother were able to carry him and his wheelchair into the building. He said he gets frustrated with social media comments that accuse him of trying to renovate the library for selfish reasons.

“I’m just showing people what the reality is,” he said.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-930-4120.


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