What the B**k??! Belmont’s Library Needs Your Support Tonight and Tuesday Evening

The Planning Board sprung a wild idea to move the main branch of the Belmont Public Library across town. Weigh in on that plan tonight at the Selectmen’s meeting and tomorrow (Tuesday) at the Planning Board Meeting at Beech Street Center.

Hey Blogging Belmont Readers! Paul here. As you know, I reach out from time to time to let the BB community know about important goings on in town government. Generally over the summer, those are few and far between – but not always. In fact, as the Town Green debacle illustrated a couple years ago, Summer can be Silly Season in Belmont’s politics.

That appears to be happening again this summer, with the proposal put forward by Planning Board member Raffi Manjikian on July 11th to relocate the main branch of the Belmont Public Library to the Belmont Car Wash location on Trapelo Road. The move, Manjikian said, would revitalize Waverly Square and help address Belmont’s mounting backlog of capital projects: renting the land from the current owners for use as the library. Good idea?

Not so much. First of all: Manjikian and Planning Board Chairwoman Liz Allison (who backs the idea) never presented the idea to the Library Board of Trustees or the BPL’s Director prior to airing it in their committee. As the Citizen Herald notes, the plan was also floated without first contacting the owners of the Car Wash (which is doing just fine, thank you, and has no plans to move). Nor did they contact other business owners in Waverley Square to get their input. Ms. Allison did have a hallway conversation with  Library Board of Trustees Chairwoman Kathy Keohane, who as “understandably unenthusiastic” about it, Allison acknowledged. And yet she persisted. 😉

In any case, Manjikian’s plan will be discussed at the Board of Selectmen’s meeting this evening at Town Hall tonight starting at 7:00 PM in the Selectmen’s Hearing Room. The Planning Board Update is slated to start at 8:30 according to the schedule, though agenda items can shift around. Maybe plan to be there by 8:00 PM?

The other meeting you should attend in addition to/instead of the Board of Selectmen’s meeting is tomorrow (Tuesday) evening’s Planning Board meeting which begins at 7:00 PM in the Auditorium of the Beech Street Center. This is where the Planning Board will officially present and discuss what it calls in its agenda the “Waverley Square/South Pleasant Street Mixed Use Concept” aka: moving the Public Library to a new location.

I’m sure you would rather do other things on a beautiful Summer’s eve. But, as the famous abolitionist Wendell Phillips said: “eternal vigilance is the price of library…err…liberty!”

See you there!

Paul

 

  • Jonathan Birge

    Not to mention the fact that a leaseback is an insanely short-sighted idea. Leasebacks are what you do as a last resort when you have no access to credit on good terms. That’s not a problem we have.

    I’ll never understand why some people are so insistent we spend money we don’t have on a shiny new library we don’t need in an age where physical library space is less and less important than the programs that happen within.

    • Hey Jon. Totally with you on the “leaseback” idea which makes absolutely no sense given that we already own a library and the land on which it sits. The Library Board of Trustees has actually moved away from the “shiny new library” plan and has a more modest renovation and expansion in mind now. I think there’s no question we need to invest in our public library which is the single most used public building in town.

      I will take issue with your idea that libraries are a thing whose time has passed. The lending library piece is less important than it was 50 years ago before the Internet (though it is still heavily used). But libraries as a place for people to access information (including the Internet), work, learn, research and share ideas are even more important in our information driven economy than they were 50 years ago. Let’s not assume everyone can pay for FiOS and reach into their wallet for books, computer software, research databases and the like! Its hard in an affluent community like Belmont to grasp that, but information and knowledge/education is a commodity that used to be limited to the upper classes. Libraries (and public schools) provide it – free of cost – to everyone. That’s critical!

      • Jonathan Birge

        I never said libraries were a thing of the past, I said it’s more important to fund the stuff inside the library than it is to pay for more space for the library, given technology. We no longer need shelves of magazines or stacks of encyclopedias, for one. A lot of what people used to get in the library in physical form they can now get inside the library at a terminal. Furthermore, while not everybody can afford the internet and digital media, most can, so the demand on the library’s physical assets has inevitably decreased. Belmont is, as you say, affluent, and we ARE talking about Belmont’s library, right?

        My biggest concern, in fact, is that if we don’t start spending Belmont’s money more wisely, the only people that can afford to live here given the inevitable tax increases WILL be the highly wealthy.

        • No question that the space/function needs are changing dramatically with technology, Jon. As for “spend wisely,” Belmont and every other community in the Commonwealth – if not the nation – are really getting the s**t end of the stick. We have an $18 trillion economy and a $3.8 trillion federal budget, but somehow the burden of building a $200 million public high school falls to the 15,000 households in Belmont and (to a lesser extent) the taxpayers of Massachusetts? That’s outrageous. Education is a federal priority and critical to the nation and economy’s future. Uncle Sam should be paying a substantial portion of the cost of capital investments like BHS, the public library, police station and so on. Instead, this burden gets pushed down to a few thousand home owners. The homeowners are right to cry “Uncle!” and parents and citizens are right to demand better services and modern infrastructure. Something has to give.

          • Jonathan Birge

            Education may be a federal priority, but every town needs a school so, in theory, having the federal government pay for schools is a zero sum game that scales just as well as having local communities pay for them, with the possible except that federal taxes are much more progressive than local property taxes. But I don’t think that matters, because while it’s hard for an affluent community like Belmont to grasp this, 99% of the schools in this country are doing worse than ours and are more deserving of federal transfer spending than us. So, if we really believe in being a progressive community, we should never expect federal education dollars to be coming to a place like Belmont when there are thousands of other school districts doing worse and whose average citizen income is much lower than ours. Which returns us to my original point: we better figure out how to fix our schools ourselves without becoming an exclusively rich community because neither the state nor the feds are ever going to help us in a material way long term.

          • Well…that makes sense if you think that there are limited resources and not enough money to spread around. But the federal budget is more than $3 TRILLION dollars. If we just shift a fraction of our “wars of choice” budget to an area like K-12 education, we free up millions of dollars in federal aid per district. Take the war in Afghanistan – conservative estimates are that it has cost $804 billion over 16 years. Divide that by 13,500 school districts in the US and you get $59 million per district over 16 years – or about $3.7 million per district per year in additional funding. Sure, economically challenged districts will capture most of that, but there’s plenty to make a meaningful difference in affluent and poor communities alike.

  • Confused about Tue planning board meeting. Closest agenda item concerns retail use for 344 Pleasant St, which is the BP Gas station on Trapelo Rd owned by Belmont Pleasant St LLC. Clearly distinct from the carwash property. (It’s at 521 Trapelo, owned by Belmont Park Associates/Mr. Tocci.)
    To me, this smells of a backdoor RE deal, a solution in search of a problem. I’d like to be convinced that the Tocci brothers were unaware of the idea.

    • Hey Geoff. Yes, I wondered whether that was a different issue as well because the description didn’t seem to fit – but I couldn’t find any other mention of the car wash on the agenda and I know (and Mrs. Allison confirmed) that PB does intend to take the issue up at its next meeting. So it appears as if this has been left off the agenda, or is packed inside some other innocuous sounding agenda item? It’s all really unclear. (As is the membership of PB, judging from last night’s BOS meeting!)

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  • Jane Sherwin

    Wait, wait, why would everyone want to voice opposition to a new library
    in Waverley Square? I live just south of the square, have since 1989, and think it’s a wonderful idea. With libraries on site at high and middle schools, and the need for walking, biking, exercise, why not this new space. And please, if you are thinking of Waverley Square as some kind of impoverished, out of the way neighborhood, do not. Waverley is a historic community that used to have its very own zip code. I agree that the planning board could well have started with the library board, but this doesn’t mean it’s not an excellent idea to consider.
    Jane Sherwin
    Whitcomb Street