By DAN TOMASELLO
LYNNFIELD — The Library Building Committee (LBC) is looking to get an extension from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) for the recently rejected $34 million building project.
Fall Town Meeting narrowly rejected two warrant articles associated with the Lynnfield Public Library project in October. While Article 10 received 293 votes in favor and 230 against, it did not pass by the required two-thirds majority that was needed. Article 10 would have sent the project to a townwide debt exclusion vote.
A similar outcome occurred with Article 11, which have designated that the new library would be built on a portion of the Reedy Meadow Golf Course. While Article 11 received 281 votes in favor and 148 against, it did not meet the required two-thirds majority to pass by 15 votes.
LBC Chair Russell Boekenkroeger, who also serves on the Board of Library Trustees, said during a recent meeting that the committee has a few options to consider moving forward.
“We could do nothing and stop the process right now,” said Boekenkroeger. “We could also propose something different, and see what it would take to get an extension from the MBLC.”
Boekenkroeger recalled that the town has to apply for the MBLC extension in order to ensure that the $9 million provisional state grant remains available for the project.
“If we are given an extension, we would look at scheduling a Special Town Meeting,” said Boekenkroeger. “Logically, it could take place in March. If it passes, we would vote on the debt exclusion at the Town Election in April.”
Boekenkroeger said the “something different” approach entails changing the new library’s modern design to a more traditional design. A number of residents and local officials criticized the proposed new library’s modern design earlier this fall.
“Once the work is performed by architect William Rawn Associates, the Library Building Committee will review it,” said Boekenkroeger. “We would then go to public meetings and get feedback. We would also get cost estimates in place and go from there.”
Town Administrator Rob Dolan said the Select Board and the Library Trustees will each have to vote to request an extension from the MBLC. While the Library Trustees voted to place the project’s two articles on the Fall Town Meeting warrant, the Select Board opposed both articles due to the $34 million project’s price tag as well as concerns that additional staff will need to be hired because the new library would be significantly larger than the current facility. The Select Board also criticized the proposed new library’s design.
“The Select Board would not look at it as an endorsement of the project, but rather it would be whether they feel the democratic process should continue,” said Dolan.
Dolan said the LBC has “some leeway” about the library’s exterior design.
“We could put clapboard on the exterior to make it look more Lynnfield,” said Dolan. “That is not very difficult to do, but there might be some cost increases. Under the grant’s rules, we cannot change the square footage. That is how you can cut costs for a project.”
Dolan said the Select Board has requested that the town issue a request for qualifications (RFQ) from other architectural firms to see how much it would cost to renovate the existing library.
“We are requesting architectural firms to look at the current library because the Select Board feels that we should exhaust all options,” said Dolan. “The $75,000 for the RFQ would be funded by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). That will give us a full analysis of the current building and several options.”
In order to schedule a Special Town Meeting, Dolan said the LBC would need to collect 200 signatures to request the meeting.
“The Library Building Committee would also need the approval from the Finance Committee to get the financial article back on the warrant and the committee would need the approval from the Planning Board to get the land article back on the warrant,” said Dolan. “Other than that, anything else could be placed on the warrant with 100 signatures. The Select Board has the right to vote to put anything else on the warrant.”
While the Planning Board unanimously voted to recommend the $34 million library project for Fall Town Meeting, the FinCom voted 6-5 not to recommend it.
Boekenkroeger asked if the Select Board could place an article on the warrant seeking to renovate the existing building.
“Yes they could,” said Dolan. “A citizen could also do that with 100 signatures.”
In response to a question from LBC member Tom Kayola, Boekenkroeger said the outdoor patios have been removed from the library project’s design.
“Getting rid of those will save a few hundred thousand dollars,” said Boekenkroeger.
LBC member Joe Gallagher, who also serves on the Finance Committee, said the building committee has to find ways to cut costs for the library project before it goes back to Town Meeting.
“We should do anything that would reduce the cost,” said Gallagher. “We have to look at everything line-by-line. I think one of the main challenges for this project all along was there has been an incredible lack of collaboration or input from the community. I think one of the reasons why this project failed at Town Meeting is there really was no community input. I know there were community forums in 2017, but there were none in 2023. As a Finance Committee member, I don’t think I could support a lack of collaboration moving forward on this project when it already failed at Town Meeting.”
Kayola, who is the Finance Committee’s representative on the LBC, agreed.
“We have to come back with a significantly different design,” said Kayola. “Town Meeting spoke and said we don’t like the design.”
LBC member Steve Todisco asked Kayola what were the reasons why Fall Town Meeting rejected the library project.
“There were three things: It’s too big, too expensive and they didn’t like the look,” said Kayola.
LBC member Sarah Kelley, who also serves on the FinCom, said Boekenkroeger has to be more receptive to feedback from other LBC members as well as residents and other municipal boards.
“There are three Finance Committee members who are all telling you that we need to scale back the cost of this building other than changing the facade,” said Kelley.
Planning Board Chair Brian Charville said the building committee should ask the project’s architect “what is the cheapest 25,000-square-foot library they can design.”
“I think what William Rawn Associates’ approach was to start modern and work toward traditional,” said Charville. “I think it should be start traditional and work towards modern. I don’t think Town Meeting would criticize the project if it has a traditional look, but you are inviting criticism if it looks modern.”
Kayola expressed his support for Charville’s suggestion.
“We need to find out what is the cheapest price they can build a 25,000-square-foot library,” said Kayola. “The Finance Committee and Select Board both voted against the project. We have to take a look at how to build a coalition going forward to get more people on board.”
LBC member Kate DePrizio added that it’s important for the building committee to address the project’s “unanswered questions” before it gets unveiled to the public again.
“What are those unanswered questions?” Boekenkroeger inquired.
Gallagher said the unanswered questions that library officials have yet to address is what additional staffing will be needed for the new library and what will be the building’s new operational costs.
After the lengthy discussion, the LBC voted to endorse that the Select Board and Library Trustees each approve a request for an extension from the MBLC for the library project.
If both boards approve requesting an extension, Boekenkroeger informed the Villager that the MBLC will vote on the extension request in early January.