Letter to the editor: Ilsley project costs clarified

Last Wednesday, more than 250 people attended an event at the Town Hall Theater to see design ideas for a renovated and expanded Ilsley Public Library from three Vermont architecture firms. The excitement at the event was palpable as community members reviewed the creative conceptual designs and imagined how our beloved and well-used public library could be improved to meet 21st-century needs.

Unfortunately, toward the end of the event Brian Carpenter, Chair of the Middlebury selectboard, made some misleading assertions about the potential fiscal impact of the building project. His claims, which are repeated in the Addison Independent article about the event, are premature and presented without proper context. We are members of the Ilsley 100 Project Committee and are writing as individuals, not on behalf of the Committee, to set the record straight about where things currently stand with the financial details of the project.

The architecture firms that submitted design ideas were asked to work with a budget of approximately $15 million, which is the estimate the Committee determined would meet the programmatic and structural needs of a new library. However, it is very early in the process and that budget could change as designs are modified, “must-haves” prioritized, and funding options fully explored. While it’s very likely that a sizable portion of the project will need to be funded by a taxpayer-financed bond, the Ilsley 100 Team is working to secure as many other funding sources as possible in order to reduce the share that must come from a bond.

Additionally, as is explained in the article, Chair Carpenter did not acknowledge that the majority of local property taxes are school taxes, thus citing a 15% increase is a scare-tactic meant to mislead the public. The impact of a bond on taxpayers will depend on the actual terms of the bond and specific circumstances for individual residents.

Ilsley Library Director, Dana Hart, has been diligently applying for numerous state, federal, and private grants. We have engaged a fundraising consultant and will be pursuing donations both large and small, including through exciting naming and community participation projects. We will seek support from neighboring towns where residents are regular users of the library and examine the potential for using other state and local revenue sources, such as ARPA funding and local option tax revenues, like the Cross Street Bridge project did. Finally, we hope to partner with Middlebury College, because a vibrant college town must include a strong public library. The portion to be paid via property taxes is simply unknown at this time.

Our fiscal analysis also acknowledges that a newly renovated building will actually be cheaper for the Town to operate, as energy and maintenance costs would be significantly reduced. Further, with over 94,000 annual visits to the Ilsley Library, it is a major driver of downtown economic activity, a figure that will certainly increase as more people are drawn to a new and improved library facility and programming space.

After a design firm is chosen and plans evolve with community input and further analysis, we will be able to release more detailed financial information. Based on the feedback received about the designs, enthusiastic attendance at the event, and the considerable work that has already been done, there is strong community support for the Ilsley Project. It will be crucial for the Middlebury selectboard to work collaboratively with the Ilsley 100 Project Team, the design firm chosen, and other project partners so that the financial package and goals of the project can be realized. Given that Chair Carpenter has publicly expressed his skepticism toward the project, other members of the selectboard must step up publicly to ensure that the work moves forward. We are confident that a majority of the board supports our community through a renovated and expanded Ilsley Public Library, and we need their vocal leadership now more than ever.

We hope community members can build on the excitement of last week’s event to envision what a new and improved Ilsley Library could mean for our downtown and community. Reach out to members of the selectboard and let them know you support Ilsley Library, and stay tuned for more ways you can be involved with the design work, fundraising, and community engagement.

Thanks for your support, and we’ll see you at the library!

Ruth Hardy & Amy Mincher, Middlebury

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