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Crumbling Chimney Leads to Confusion over Who is Responsible for Branch Library Maintenance

The Hills Branch Library’s cracking chimney will be repaired through various finding sources.

A chimney in need of repairs has once again led to confusion over which town faction town is responsible for structural fixes at both branch library buildings.

At a Jan. 18 meeting, the Advisory Committee approved a town reserve fund transfer of $30,000, which will be added to $15,000 put up by the Library Board of Trustees through a revolving fund set up at Town Meeting several years ago to assist with maintenance, for necessary stabilization and ultimately a study for permanent construction of the Hills Branch chimney, according to Selectwoman Terri Tsagaris, who has served as a liaison for the Board of Selectmen and Library Trustees on this project.

This brings to a close a months-long endeavor by Tsagaris to piece together funding for the chimney, which is now wrapped in protective materials. The chimney has been in need of repairs for at least the past two years.

Tsagaris, at a meeting Dec. 19, 2011, said she would have to cobble together a necessary $28,000 at the time through two different groups: the town and the trustees. She said the Library Trustees had agreed to chip in $8,000, but would go as high as $15,000, which they have done.

“Trustees have depleted their funds, the Selectmen’s facilities reserve fund is depleted,” she said at the meeting.

The selectmen debated at that meeting which faction is actually responsible for cost of repairs to the branch libraries: the town or the trustees.

The branch libraries closed in May 2006 because Town Meeting voted to remove public funding. In 2008, after two years of private fundraising, the branches re-opened, but the confusion lies in which set of funds would continue to pay for maintenance of the buildings.

Ann Howley, chair of the Board of Library Trustees, said the branch libraries work off of about $80,000 in private funding for internal operations, which include staff and materials.

Because the buildings are technically town-owned, they should fall under capital maintenance, she said.

“Library trustees are stewards of the buildings but we have no ownership of them,” she said. “If we ceased using them as branch libraries…we couldn’t put up the sale and reap the benefits, they are to go back to the town.”

Howley said there should be a distinct line between what both factions are responsible for.

“I think the issue there is you have to separate out your operating and capital maintenance,” she said. “The vote clearly said no money for operating, but on the flip side these buildings are town buildings."

Hans Larsen, executive director of general government, said in an interview Dec. 20, this question is difficult to answer because of the lack of definitive language at the time of the 2006 vote.

“The town is concerned to see its assets maintained, but it’s vague as to who should be paying for long term maintenance,” he said. “Should it be taxpayers or should it be funded privately?”

Weston & Sampson will be contracted to perform a design study for the stabilization, and Alpha & Omega Group will stabilize the chimney, according to Tsagaris. Alpha & Omega peformed the initial work on the chimney last year, and determined it was in need of stabilization this winter.

There is no exact timeline in place for when the chimney will be completely restored, but Tsagaris said the town is waiting for the engineers to complete the design study and ultimately repair the chimney as soon as possible.

As far as long-term maintenance of the buildings is concerned, Tsagaris said there is still not a definitive solution, but both sides will continue to talk.

“There needs to be a full and frank discussion between the Library Trustees and Board of Selectmen,” she said.

MJ January 26, 2012 at 04:40 PM
It is very surprising that this was not nailed down at the time. It would seem this would have been foreseen. I assume the town is also paying to clear the parking lots of snow? How about repaving & maintaining landscaping? The town should know how much goes to support the two branches, above & beyond our beautiful new main library that is so close to both of these branches.
Miguel Lessing January 26, 2012 at 10:49 PM
the 2006 Town Meeting clearly voted not to support the branches by not funding their operating expenses. This is not a technical matter of wording. If private citizens were willing to fund the running of the branches, they should also pay for the repairs. Why would the taxpayers foot the bill if the vote was not to support the library branches?

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