Saturday was the annual town meeting. A major issue was up for vote: whether to accept the gift of a closed store once money is raised by donation to completely renovate it as a library and community center. No cost to the town except for maintenance once completed. The issue came up at the 2021 town meeting and an exploratory committee was formed to study the two options. One being renovating the existing library which is not ADA capable, has no water or sewer, has limited street parking, no room for meetings and has to remove a book when a new one arrives. The second being move the library to the closed general store providing more space, handicap access, bathrooms, a full kitchen (already there), lots of meeting space, parking and outside green space.
You'd think the decision would be a no brainer. The old library was built in 1910 so it has historic significance and that's what the opposition to the move emphasized. They claimed it could be renovated but said nothing about how it still would be small, parking would remain the same, there would be four levels to the library with the major collections in the basement. In my mind those opposed are against change and are unlikely to be patrons of the library.
It was a big deal in our town and more than 500 people, half the registered voters, gathered in the school gymnasium for the town meeting. The issue was the second item on the agenda after approving the town budget. The warrant was not presented by the selectmen which is usual but was a petition. The petitioners got to have the first block of time to present. It was very well done and included the architect's presentation for the store. Then the opposition presented by reading statements only. No presentation. Then more open discussions and questions ending with one woman who wrapped it up by saying that no one wanted to see the old library demolished. That the building would find new life with another purpose once the new library is in move in condition. There are other buildings in our town which have been repurposed.
The comment period went on for 90 minutes then the vote was called by secret ballot. We were all given little yellow slips with yes and no boxes. Then we had to get into a line depending upon our last names A-K and L-Z. The voting and counting of votes (three times) took another 90 minutes.
The move to the new library won but I had no idea it would be a 12 vote margin only: 268 to 256.
Once the results were announced a motion was made to restrict any reconsideration of the issue. This passed by voice vote. Word had passed through the crowd that the opposition was planning to bring it up again in expectation that after voting people had departed. Some had left but the result was set.
Now a non profit has 5 years to raise the money needed for the renovations and furnishing of the space. If unsuccessful then the owner of the building will rescind the gift and put it on the market. We are all hopeful that we can pull it off. Dan and I plan to donate what we can.