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FRAMINGHAM

Library trustees seek new branch

Initial steps face Town Meeting vote

By Megan McKee
Globe Correspondent / January 2, 2011

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Even as Framingham faces a multimillion-dollar budget deficit, the town’s library trustees are hoping to win Town Meeting support and a state grant for a new McAuliffe Branch of the Framingham Public Library.

They say the circa-1960s building, the second-busiest branch library in the state, is too cramped to adequately host programs, with no area for tutoring or book clubs, and only 20 seats to accommodate 12,000 visitors each month.

“We did an extensive study of community needs before we embarked on this,’’ said Ruth Winett, chairwoman of the library trustees. “We think it will enhance the town in general. It will be an economic driver for the town, it will enhance property values, and it says this is a town that cares about education and culture and is forward looking.’’

But it remains to be seen whether Framingham will support the project, estimated to cost $7.5 million, with about $4.1 million to be picked up by taxpayers, as the town faces a $6 million budget shortfall next fiscal year.

The warrant for Special Town Meeting convening Jan. 12 includes articles seeking approval of the preliminary design of the new building, and seeking $740,000 to acquire property on Water Street to build the branch library, contingent upon Framingham’s receipt of a state library grant that would cover about 50 percent of the project’s cost.

If Framingham gets the grant, the project would still need Town Meeting approval for the actual building project. The new site is 1.5 miles down the street from the existing branch library.

Framingham will be up against other area towns, including Sherborn and Belmont, in the grant competition, according to a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Board of Library Directors.

Thirty-five communities have said they will apply for grants, and they have until Jan. 27 to submit formal applications.

In 2005, Town Meeting narrowly rejected paying $4 million for a new McAuliffe Branch after Framingham received a state grant that covered only 25 percent of building costs. The effort fell short by seven votes.

Janet Leombruno, one of the Town Meeting members who voted against the 2005 branch library plan, said she feels warmer toward the current proposal.

“I don’t see that I have enough valid reasons to say no right now,’’ said Leombruno. “Are we going to let the town go to pieces if we have this opportunity? If you spend a little bit, you’ll get a little more in return.’’

Winett pointed to myriad benefits of the proposed Water Street location. It’s across from the Hemenway Elementary School and near multiple large housing developments. The branch would also be a boon for nearby Nobscot Plaza, which has been languishing for years without an anchor store, she said.

Winett said it would cost $422,000 to renovate the existing library and bring it up to current disability-access standards. But with those upgrades, the library would still lack the additional space it urgently needs, she said.

The current McAuliffe Branch is 5,800 square feet, while the proposed building would be 17,000 square feet.

Selectmen will discuss the Town Meeting articles at their meeting Tuesday, and decide whether to recommend passage, said chairman Dennis Giombetti. He described the Special Town Meeting votes as “just kicking the can forward,’’ and said that if the town gets the grant, Town Meeting would vote next fall on whether to build.

On Wednesday, the Finance Committee will discuss the articles to make recommendations to Town Meeting.

At least one Finance Committee member opposes the library plan. Nicolas Sanchez, who is running for selectman in the spring election, said that since technology and information-consumption habits are changing at such a quick pace, communities must change their ideas of what libraries should look like.

“We have to come up with different ways of looking at the problems,’’ said Sanchez, an economics professor at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester.

“These types of endeavors are outdated in the sense that what we need are computer centers where people have full access to books with the ways they are handled today, with the Nook, the Kindle.’’

He suggested using existing town buildings that offer ample room for the public to gather and use technology.

Library trustees said that only a small percentage of Americans use electronic reading devices, and children need books that can be touched and experienced. They said the new library could be reconfigured as technology advances.

There will be tours of the proposed site of the new branch library on Saturday at 11 a.m. and next Sunday at 1 p.m. The tours will convene on the eastern edge of Nobscot Plaza five minutes before the starting time, and will last about a half-hour.

In addition, library trustees will hold a forum on the plans for the new building next Sunday from 2 to 3:30 p.m. at the McAuliffe Branch, with aerial views of the site on view the same day at the main library, 49 Lexington St., from 2:30 to 3 p.m.

Megan McKee can be reached at megan.mckee@gmail.com.

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