Crazy ideas for ’09: Fast track the Library

Note: This is the third installment in a series of posts proposing unorthodox (that is “crazy”) ideas that Belmont might consider in 2009 to improve the quality of life in town. The first two posts are here and here.

One of the biggest problems facing the town in 2009 and beyond is how to prioritize the slew of capital project staring us in the face –especially given the very difficult fiscal environment. As has been reported, the state has already run into trouble raising money in the credit markets to make planned investments in infrastructure. Now falling tax revenues will most likely lead to steeper cuts at the state level, which will translate into less money for Belmont and other towns to tackle their own projects. Waiting out there in the ether is the prospect of Federal aid. While waiting for Washington to come to the rescue is ordinarily a fool’s errand, there is every indication that a Democratic Congress will move very quickly to pass an Obama administration backed stimulus package, a consistent feature of which has been money for infrastructure investments. So all is not lost. Looking ahead, the town has one clear priority: the construction of a new Wellington Elementary School (again, for purposes of disclosure: I’m volunteering time to Together for Wellington, a group that is pushing for the passage of a debt exclusion to fund construction of that school.) With state funding for as much as 40% of that project waiting in the wings, Belmont can’t afford not to turn its nose up at the opportunity to address this critical problem now.

After that, however, there are many competing projects that are all important to the town: a new Police Department Headquarters to replace the aging building on Concord Ave., a new main Library, improvements to – or the construction of a new High School, delayed road repairs, a failing Underwood Pool, Viglirolo Skating Rink, etc. etc. Different people have different priorities, and building a new main library branch rarely makes it to the top of the list (despite the clearly desperate condition of the current facility) a number of factors make it such that building a new Library on a new location is the best next move for the town after Wellington. As has been reported, town officials have already identified the Library’s current building as well-suited to re-use as a Police HQ. At the same time, development on the Library site — either for a new Library or a new Police HQ — will force the town to contend with its plans for the Underwood Pool which has been circling the drain, so to speak, for a decade and is one major failure away from never re-opening. Chances are, we’ll be facing this reality on a steamy day in July. Better to confront it now and plan for an orderly wind down. I’ve heard otherwise sensible people suggest we just let Underwood die then leave it abandoned — a monument to our frugality (or our ineptitude). I’m not sure what that would do besides make skateboarders very happy. Of course, locating a new library is a thorny problem as well, but its also crucial to unblocking the logjam of capital projects facing the town. Find a place for the new library and you’ve got your new Police Station. You may also have found an answer to the Underwood/Skating Rink question, too. (Does anyone else think a combined recreation complex with both pool and rink , maybe on the old incinerator site, would be a _bad_ idea?) As with so many other things, the answer to Belmont’s tangle of capital projects can be found in the Library.