by Kristen Miller
One hundred and fifty residents gathered in the school gymnasium, last night, to discuss and eventually defeat by voice vote an article which sought funds for use in the planning phase of a new library.
After voting to reconsider the action taken at town meeting day which allocated $15,000 to the library project for planning a new library as an addition to the Barnet School, voters defeated an ammendment that came to the floor to allocate $5,000 for this purpose.
Though the vote was close on Town Meeting Day in March, taxpayers passed Article 16, which appropriated $15,000 for trustees of the Barnet Public Library to begin the planning phase of a new library. However, a few weeks after that, a petition was passed in to the town clerk demanding the town to reconsider the action taken.
The new library is needed, trustees say, because the old one, above the town clerk's office on Route 5, is squeezed for space, has limited parking and hours, and is out of federal Americans With Disabilities Act compliance.
In addition to feeling $15,000 was too much money to spend for a study, many townspeople were against the proposed location. Some residents seemed opposed to the concept of any community library.
Library trustees and Robert Brown, the architect hired for the project, were hit with a barrage of hostile questions and comments prior to the vote. Residents' problems with Article 16 were multifaceted.
Resident Ron Morse initiated the meeting by reading a letter from Larry Ruggles, the man who began the petition to rescind the vote.
In the letter, Ruggles stated, "This service should cost between $3,000 and $5,000."
Ruggles wrote that he urged community members to vote against the original appropriation and instead vote for $5,000.
Library trustees explained that though $15,000 seems like a lot of money, it is the only way to answer specific building questions that arise.
"That's the surest way of getting an accurate hard number," said Brown. There was applause after Shirley Warden stood up and asked, "What good does it do for us to have a $15,000 plan for a $200,000-plus building that we don't want?"
Trustee Sherri Schenck answered that in a survey taken a few years ago at town meeting, town members ovenvhelmingly supported the concept of a new library at the school.
However, Mona Stark suggested the library committee took the survey too seriously.
Brown answered questions about what else the library trustees had looked into other than the school location.
"My question is, are we looking into other possibilities for this library?" asked Gerry Riley.
Brown explained the town hall was the first place he and library trustees had looked, as it seemed to be the simple solution. However, he explained the structure was problematic for a number of reasons.
Structurally there are problems with the main floor in its lack of compliance with mandated building codes. Load-bearing library codes require library flooring to accept a load of 165 pounds per square foot, which the town hall does not come close to having.
Brown said the major flaw in the town hall as an option for a new community library was the lost opportunity. Though there is some value in the town hall, he said it equals only about 15 percent or 20 percent of a finished structure. Given the work involved in improving the building, it seemed the school, with its Internet capabilities and convenient location, was not to be passed up.
"I don't agree with that," said Riley.
However, other townspeople were ever more critical of the project, to the extent that they questioned the need for a community library at all.
"We do have a library in St. Johnsbury and it's not that far to drive. Why do we have to pay when we can drive 7 miles down the road?" said one man.
Elizabeth O'Donnell spoke in favor of a community library.
"Please don't give your library away, I don't care where you put it, but keep it, keep the control," said O'Donnell.
Clayton Evans, a lister in the town, said he was worried about the possible amount of tax money that might be lost if the town loses its litigation with New England Power and Central Vermont Public Service Corp. Currently the power companies are paying over 50 percent of the total taxes in Barnet, and because they have appealed their assessment, he said there is a potential to lose money.
"I think it's a good idea to hold back until we find out what's going to happen," said Evans.
"I can't see raising taxes anymore," said Bob Brookman.
There was some debate on the location of the proposed library. Some people felt it was too costly; however, others felt it might kill two birds with one stone by alleviating some space pressure. The school is currently at the maximum capacity, and adding an addition may soon become a reality. If a town library was built on the property, the space which houses the school library could be used for other classrooms.
When questions about specific planning for the proposed library at the school location arose, Brown explained they will be unanswered until a study is completed.
In the end, some library trustees still felt there was a misunderstanding. "I don't think people understood what the money was for - the $15,000 was designed to answer those unanswered questions," said Trustee Gail Montany.
As for the future of the cramped current library which is out of compliance with ADA regulations, Schenck said the trustees will have to discuss the issue further.
"We will have to seriously consider closing," said Schenck.