Westford residents set to vote on J.V. Fletcher Library Building Project


Elitsa Koleva

Town voters will get to decide whether or not the Library Building Project will make it on the Nov. 8 local ballot during the Special Town Meeting on Monday, Oct. 17.

Elitsa Koleva, News Editor

Westford residents will get to vote on the official passing of the Library Building Project, meant to renovate and expand the J.V. Fletcher Library, during the Special Town Meeting coming Monday, Oct. 17. As of right now, the library has secured a $7,851,944 state grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) for this project. If passed during the Special Town Meeting, the Library Building Project will make it on the Nov. 8 local ballot. 

What the Library Building Project proposes is a significant increase in the young adult and children’s sections, with more study programs for WA students and reading programs for children. In addition to that, there would be more community meeting spaces, as well as improvements in technology and better safety code.

For this project, the town would have to pay their share of $23,375,756. As a result, town bonds to households valued at $660,500 or more would be issued over the course of 20 years. Starting in Fiscal Year 2024 (FY24), the bond would be $4.17, increasing each year until it hits its peak of $158.61 during FY27, which is the year the library would be complete.

The Library Board of Trustees has already selected the architectural firm and made an approximate blueprint for the program so that voters are aware of what they can expect. If the project were to be passed, it would take a year for design development and two more years for building, during which the library would have to move off-site.

When it comes to the current state of the library, specifically the young adult section, many WA students are supportive of the Library Building Project because they feel that there needs to be more done. 

“Our biggest problem right now is the children’s section that is spilling into the lobby, so with the expansion they would be able to have different spaces for everyone and have group working spaces and individual study spaces,” library volunteer and WA senior Elena Gibbons said. “[The young adult section] only has a small area with a few chairs […] and we honestly need more space for books because right now we only have [about] two shelves.”

The recent push to rebuild and expand the library comes as a result of the outdated safety code of the building and the increasing Westford population. Furthermore, the MBLC grant that the Westford library has secured will no longer be available if town voters do not pass it during the Special Town Meeting and on the local ballot. Any future library renovation would also be more expensive due to inflation.

“The Board of the Library Commissioners has made it clear that they have 40 municipalities waiting for [this grant]. And we are in line now for $7.85 million and that is money coming from our taxes,” Library Director Ellen Rainville said. “If we don’t support this project, we don’t go to the bottom of the list. We don’t start over again. We are just nowhere and that is money from our taxes that will go to some other community.”

However, there were also concerns raised during the Finance Committee’s Oct. 4 meeting over how this project will be funded and the possible strain it may have on the town expenses. Specifically, the tax raise on families if the Library Building Project and the pending 51 Main Street Project, which proposes a new Town Center Building, were to be passed simultaneously. 

“While both of these projects are very valid, that is $100 a year [in bonds] from this year to 2027 on the average household and I think we need to be cognizant of that and the pushback we might get from that, especially with inflation,” Vice Chairman of the Finance Committee Tom Laflamme said.

On the other hand, the town’s debt will be at 4.75% by FY24, highlighting the town’s current financial stability and making now the perfect time to pass both projects, given how the town debt should be between 7-10%, according to Finance Director Daniel O’Donnell.

Still, these financial setbacks have been a common theme for libraries throughout Massachusetts, despite receiving the MBLC grant. According to Rainville, libraries throughout the state, including that in Westford, Chelmsford and Amherst, among others, are planning to appeal to the State Legislature for more financial aid coming from the American Rescue Plan Act.

“Instead of just choosing one legislator to appeal to, we have all banded together and are making a case that this is a crisis for communities,” Rainville said. “In some cases these communities have already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and volunteers, groups, professionals have already dedicated decades to planning and so it is really critical to get help in order to realize these dreams.”