The Sandwich Public Library Board of Trustees reacted with shock and dismay Tuesday evening to a February 13 decision by the board of selectmen to withdraw town land that had been set aside for a library in South Sandwich.
The trustees said the move could quash for years the construction of a second library in the town.
The selectmen voted 5-0 in executive session February 13 to drop the plan to provide the library with three acres. The parcel is part of a 56-acre town-owned tract in a section of Sandwich known as the “Golden Triangle.”
Selectman Frank Pannorfi, who made the motion, said the current board does not support the land deal with the library. Mr. Pannorfi said the board sees the deal as a factor that could make the town tract less attractive to a new developer going forward.
The selectmen held the executive session after the Tsakalos Realty Trust notified the town that the trust would not pursue a plan to buy the town land and develop a mixed-use project in the Golden Triangle.
Library officials first learned of the selectmen’s decision the following day, when town manager George H. Dunham called Marian L. Gurney, chairman of the library trustees, to inform her of the vote.
On Tuesday, the trustees said the decision to pull the land would effectively end the town’s chances to obtain an approximate 50 percent state library grant toward construction of the proposed $15.2 million library.
To build the library, the town would have to come up with the rest of the cost.
Sandwich had climbed over time to the top of the grant eligibility list in Massachusetts. But state library officials have said that the grant is contingent on the proposed site.
“If the land was to be taken away, the grant would be taken back,” trustee Mark A. Wiklund said.
Sandwich would be knocked off the grant list. To get back on the list, the town would be required to re-apply. Trustee Jennifer B. Tickell said the process effectively would delay any new grant-funded library construction in town until at least 2020.
In the wake of Tuesday’s meeting, Ms. Gurney planned to inform James W. Pierce, chairman of the board of selectmen, of the library board’s objection to the February 13 land decision.
Further, in light of that decision, the library trustees want to move up the town’s consideration of capital needs at the existing library on Main Street, including the need to address roof leaks and a troubled heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.
Mr. Pannorfi said the town already has invested $2 million in recent years for repairs at the Main Street library.
Trustees also raised the issue of the $50,000 loan provided for the new library building project by the Friends of the Sandwich Library.
The trustees used the loan toward helping meet design costs for the project. Although they said some of that design work could be used for a new project, they also said some expenditures funded by the loan could not be recovered.
The trustees had planned on repaying the loan once the library building project got under way. But that may no longer be a viable option.
In light of that, trustees said, they suggested that the town help make up the difference to the Friends.
Library director Joanne A. Lamothe also said that town officials seem to exclude the library from capital planning.
Ms. Lamothe said she has heard the Town Hall Annex and the Henry T. Wing School mentioned as possible future library sites, but she said that no town official has formally approached the library on those ideas.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the library trustees especially faulted the selectmen for making their decision to pull back on the library land deal in a closed session that excluded the trustees and the public.
Mr. Wiklund said he accepts the legitimacy of the selectmen’s decision, but questions their making the decision in executive session.
Mr. Pannorfi said the selectmen included the decision in its executive session because of its possible impact on the purchase price of the town land.
Trustee Janet E. Czarnetzki said she was “flabbergasted” by the selectmen’s move. The trustees, she said, had no inkling that a decision was going to come about.
Another trustee, Jeanie M. Vander Pyl, said the selectmen’s decision flew in the face of a Special Town Meeting vote to allow the library to pursue the state grant.
“It’s almost like a violation of public trust,” Ms. Vander Pyl said. “Basically, they’re saying the voice of the people doesn’t matter.”
Ms. Tickell questioned the rationale that the 56-acre tract would be more attractive to a developer without a three-acre parcel set aside for a library.
“A library is a draw,” she said. “It brings people in.”
Trustee Mary M. Gaffney advocated asking the selectmen to reconsider. Ms. Vander Pyl recommended holding that discussion in a public session.
But Ms. Tickell and Mr. Wiklund questioned whether such a move would be effective.
“They’re going to be the firm parent and say ‘no,’ ” Ms. Tickell said.
Among those who attended Tuesday’s meeting was Gail Zeltman Ravetz, president of the Friends board.
Ms. Ravetz told the trustees that the selectmen had based their decision at least in part on what she called faulty information.
Citing two items, she said the new library would not require overall library employment to increase 35 employees, and that idea of building a library was not just tied to the now-defunct Tsakalos proposal, but goes back at least two decades.
Mr. Pannorfi said the 35-employee number had appeared on the library website, and that the only other library tie-in he knew of involving the town land was as part of a large-scale municipal complex proposed about 14 years ago.
During Tuesday’s discussion, Mr. Wiklund recommended that the trustees take a different approach, should town land ever again be proposed for a library.
“I think the next time we get land, we want the deed, not just the promise,” he said.