Despite loss of grant, supporters of new or renovated Orange library forge ahead

By MAX BOWEN

Athol Daily News Editor

Published: 07-11-2023 2:08 PM

ORANGE — Those looking to enjoy a good libation can head to Element Brewing Co. on Thursday while supporting the library community’s goal of a new or renovated Wheeler Memorial Library.

As part of Element’s “Thankful Thursdays” fundraising program, a percentage of the business’ spirit and beer sales from 6 to 8 p.m. will benefit the Wheeler Memorial Library’s Building Fund. The brewery is at 16 Bridge St. in Millers Falls.

Robin Shtulman, a member of the trustees of Orange Public Libraries, said that a lot of different fundraising efforts have been conducted to support a new or renovated library. This includes selling a specialty brand of coffee called Renovation Roast that can be purchased at Trail Head Outfitters & General Store and Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee Co., raffles and a puzzle relay held in the spring that brought in nearly $11,500. Approximately $490,000 has been raised over the years.

“We’re doing lots of fundraising,” she said. “No matter what direction the renovation or replacement takes, we want to raise as much as we can to reduce the tax burden that will be part of it.”

Library officials have said Wheeler Memorial Library at 49 East Main St., which has not had a major renovation since its construction in 1914, is falling into disrepair. The building’s basement — where the children’s section is — has extremely poor ventilation and relies almost entirely on ceiling fans and a dehumidifier. The library is also in desperate need of a new roof, as the current one regularly leaks. The building has no dedicated staff space and just one small bathroom. The facility is also not wheelchair-accessible.

Since 1983, Library Director Jessica Magelaner said the library has unsuccessfully sought an appropriation from the town to cover renovations. The most recent effort was at the November 2022 election, where voters rejected by 58 votes a debt-exclusion override to authorize borrowing up to $10.4 million to supplement a $5.2 million grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC). The vote failed, 1291-1233, with 47% of registered voters casting ballots. Magelaner added that many said the cost for a renovated library — estimated at $15.6 million — was too high.

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“Forty years of the town saying, ‘We don’t want to do this,’” she said.

After November’s defeat, the library applied for and received an extension to its state grant deadline of Jan. 9, with the new deadline being April 30. Library officials looked into getting an additional $5 million from the state, but learned that the best that could be done was $1 million, and so the grant was declined.

“We’ve gotten a pretty clear message from the town,” Magelaner said, “that completely renovating the Wheeler isn’t something they want to invest in.”

Now, a discussion on pursuing an altogether new building is in the very early stages, although Magelaner added that a renovation hasn’t been completely ruled out. A new building has been estimated at around $11 million.

Meanwhile, a new grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners is being sought for the 2023-2024 period. Once the state determines the need and reviews the plans, up to 50% of the cost may be taken care of for the town, with the rest to be covered by the taxpayers. Magelaner encourages residents who are interested in the project to attend the Building Committee meetings, with the next one to be held in a hybrid format on Aug. 7.

Max Bowen can be reached at mbowen@recorder.com or 413-930-4074.

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