Op/Ed

Editorial: Vote yes, with thanks for an Ilsley project done well

ANGELO LYNN

It’s not often that residents of any town can gladly approach a significant bond issue knowing all parties involved have excelled at crafting a $16.99 million library renovation project down to a very manageable $4.4 million payment for taxpayers to retire over the next 20 years.

The effort involved in achieving this remarkable proposal should not be overlooked. 

Two years ago, the town of Middlebury formed the Ilsley 100 Project Team which was to spearhead a transparent effort to assess what the 100-year-old library building needed to serve its patrons for the next few years or for the next century.

The team initially explored renovating the existing space and replacing decrepit facilities like the heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems, the elevator, and redoing much of the building’s plumbing and electrical systems. They quickly discovered that just replacing the boiler, the ancient elevator and adding a secondary exit to the third floor (a necessary safety feature) would run close to $3 million, and that didn’t improve any of cramped, dark and dingy spaces inherent in a century-old building.

The committee then explored building new facilities at various sites in town, as well as renovating and expanding on the existing site. 

Based on community feedback, the committee heeded the public’s preference to keep the library at its current site and narrowed its focus to renovations. They commissioned three area architectural firms to design architectural drawings around a set of criteria, including a price-point that met the library board’s needs for the next 100 years (as much as that can be done) as well as designing a project that would enhance the rest of the downtown.

The three architectural designs were presented this past August to the community amid much fanfare. The designs excited the community not only by re-imaging how the library could serve its patrons, but also by how such a project could enliven that area of the downtown.

Even with that excitement, the projected $16.4 million cost was daunting and seemed out of reach. 

But then the pieces started to fall in place. A fundraising campaign is on its way to raising $6 million through private donations; $2 million in state and federal grants were secured by library staff and $552,064 achieved through tax credits and rebates. Those efforts brought the price tag to around $8.5 million — doable, but still a sizable chuck for taxpayers to handle. That’s when the idea of using $4 million of the town’s excess proceeds from its local option tax was hatched, reviewed and approved by the town selectboard. That leaves taxpayers to shoulder about 25% of the project’s cost.

That brief summation, of course, overlooks the thousands of hours of volunteer and staff time over the past four years by dozens of committed residents, of whom long-time Isley board president Joe McVeigh (who is now a trustee with Meg Baker taking over as board president), deserves much credit, as does Ilsley Library Director Dana Hart, along with other members of the Ilsley 100 Project Team, which includes Amy Mincher, Dan Brown, Farhad Kahn, Barara Doyle-Wilch, Ken Perine and Judith Harris.

I offer these salutations ahead of next Tuesday’s vote (May 7, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the town office building at 77 Main) because the work ahead of this vote was done as it should be: it was carefully planned with numerous options considered; it has been well vetted by professionals at each level; the community was involved in numerous steps along the way and its feedback was heard and honored; and where there was a will key players found a way to make the project’s cost manageable for taxpayers to handle.

It’s still a chunk of change to pay off, but as a return on investment, few other projects will ever provide Middlebury residents such high value. Vote yes on the library bond, with thanks to all those who made such a good investment possible.

Angelo Lynn

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