Summary: Unless you have a passion for things like ‘privatizing public institutions,’ there’s little to admire about the Planning Board’s idea for relocating the public library.
When I was maybe four years old, I had the clever idea to stick a straw broom into a roaring fire to see if it would catch. It did, and I took the opportunity to run about the downstairs of our home with the flaming broom over my head. That is, until I ran into my mother who grabbed the broom out of my hands, javelined it into the kitchen sink, and doused it with water.
An alternative for my mother on that occasion was to not seize the flaming broom and throw it into the sink, but to allow the fire to spread to the ceiling and maybe consume our home. We don’t think of such things as “options,” because setting a broom alight indoors is such a stupendously bad idea that the only “option” upon encountering such a plan in action is to extinguish it – figuratively, or literally if need be.
I relate this tale from my childhood because Belmont’s Planning Board, had its own little “straw broom in the fire” moment in July when it put forward an unsolicited proposal to relocate our beloved public library from its current location on Concord Avenue to a smaller, privately owned lot in Waverley Square.
The plan was concocted by Planning Board member Raffi Manjikian and brought forward by Chairwoman Liz Allison without consulting or in any way involving the Library’s six, democratically elected Trustees. That’s probably no accident; the plan is a stinker. It would require Belmont to lease a smaller and privately-owned parcel currently occupied by the Belmont Car Wash (terms unknown) and then find the space on that smaller lot for both a public library and a senior housing development (price unknown).
Last week, more than a month after the idea was first floated, Mrs. Allison finally presented the idea to the Library’s Board and answered questions about it. Would this facility be bigger or smaller than our current library? Ms. Allison couldn’t say. Would its construction be more or less expensive for the town’s tax payers than plans the Library Trustees have put forward in their feasibility study? She wasn’t sure. How might the town accommodate the increased traffic at one of Belmont’s busiest and most dangerous intersections? She hadn’t considered that.
Unless you have a passion for things like ‘privatizing public institutions,’ there’s little to admire about this idea. And yet, the idea lives on. Last week, neither Ms. Allison nor Selectman Paolillo would say unequivocally that the plan was dead. Ms. Allison resisted more than one request to commit that any plan for the Library should first get Trustees’ approval before moving forward. Sadly, Mr. Paolillo waffled on that, also.
That’s dangerous stuff. Belmont relies heavily on the work of its committees. For our government to function, however, those committees have to respect each other’s work, expertise and purview. The Warrant Committee doesn’t hold hearings on what it wants from the next School Superintendent, because that is the job of The School Committee. The Planning Board should not pretend that it has domain over the Public Library. To countenance a naked effort by one committee to exert control outside of its mandate is to invite chaos– like a mother standing idly by while her toddler brandishes a burning broom.
I urge our Planning Board to abandon this proposal at their next meeting and our Board of Selectmen to affirm that the Library Trustees are the caretakers of the Public Library, as stated clearly in our Town’s bylaws. The Trustees stamp of approval should be a prerequisite for any plan to relocate, renovate or rebuild this treasured local institution.
Paul Roberts, Town Meeting Member, Precinct 8