December 18, 2018 — Weston’s Public Library has been awarded a State Library Construction grant to pay for half of $165,000 needed to renovate the library’s Children’s Room.
This is a matching grant, which means the Town must provide the other half before State funds are released.
The Children’s Room is used more heavily and by more families than ever before. But the space hasn’t kept up. It is crowded with stacks and fixed shelves. There is virtually no room for work, interactive play, technology, or seating for children and caregivers.
Earlier this year, the Library Board made plans to open up the room with new furniture and mobile shelving at a cost of around $83,000. The improvements would have been funded by a draw of up to $68,000 from an endowment the Board controls plus $15,000 allocated in the Town’s capital budget.
When the opportunity for State money emerged, the plan was expanded. The grant application included the interior renovations and added upgrades to the building, mostly for energy conservation.
That work includes bringing parts of the Children’s Room up to code, improving energy efficiency with modern lighting, windows, and ventilation fans, and removing asbestos found in window caulk.
With the grant’s approval, all these things can be done. All the Town has to do is provide $82,500 in matching funds.
Details of the sources of matching funds were agreed on December 6th by the Board of Selectmen, which unanimously voted to divide the contributions as follows:
$15,000 already budgeted.
$26,500 from the Library’s endowment.
$41,000 from an off-budget supplemental appropriation.
Supplemental appropriations must be approved by the Board of Finance, which took up the request that evening.
They did not approve.
The Finance Board didn’t reject it either, but came to the conclusion that the endowment’s contribution was insufficient, and demanded a different formula.
Most of the Library’s endowment is the result of a bequest several years ago by the late Franc Vitale. Nearly $1 million of it was used in the major Library renovation of 2017. About $1.1 million remains.
The Board of Finance reasoned that because earlier in the year the Library Board had intended to spend up to $68,000 (a figure later reduced), and was now offering only $26,500, the endowment should contribute more: an additional $15,000.
The back and forth between Finance Board members and the Library Board’s Amy Sanborn was less than harmonious. At one point, Finance members complained that the Library was “nickel and diming us” and accused the Library Board of “holding us hostage.”
Ms. Sanborn argued, to little avail, that the endowment was meant for improvements to the Library interior, that the building structure is the Town’s responsibility, and that the two have been conflated due to the grant application by the Town.
Putting aside the heat often on display at Finance meetings, the two sides have a common interest. But not a mutual one. The Library wants to conserve its endowment, the Board of Finance wants to conserve taxpayer dollars.
It seems highly unlikely that a revised agreement on cost sharing will not be worked out. Without matching funds, the State grant would be lost. At this writing, the next step is for the Library Board to work with the Board of Selectmen to revise the supplemental appropriation request and re-submit to the Board of Finance.
By any measure, the Children’s Library is a success. The children’s reading program is particularly popular, so much so that, even while tightening the belt as much as possible in this year’s budget cycle, the Board of Selectmen allocated extra funds so the program could run on Saturdays.
For that matter, more and more each year, the Library as a whole is a hit.
Two key metrics for public libraries are gate and circulation. Gate is the number of people coming in. Circulation is the volume of books and other materials being lent. Both numbers for the Weston Public Library have increased sharply in the past two years.
The Library offers a broad range and increasing number of programs — not just for kids — including ones sponsored by Friends of the Weston Library, which is a separate 501(c)(3) non-profit whose volunteers pitch in and also raise money.
UPDATE: On December 20, the Board of Selectmen approved a revised supplemental request in the amount of $26,000. It will be taken up by the Board of Finance.
CORRECTION: In a December 22 update, we reported that the Library Board acceded to the Finance Board's demand to provide an additional $15,000 from its endowment. In fact, at that time the Library Board had not yet voted on whether to increase its offer. We regret the error.
FURTHER UPDATE: Subsequent to the December 22 correction, the Library Board did vote to provide an additional $15,000 from its endowment, and the boards of Selectmen and Finance approved a revised allocation for the Town's portion. As a result, all required matching funds are arranged.