Residents rally behind Orange’s Wheeler Memorial Library with fundraising puzzle relay

By DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer

Published: 03-09-2023 5:04 PM

ORANGE — Local business owner Stephanie Cook is planning a relay fundraiser for this Sunday, but participants are unlikely to suffer a cramp.

Cook, who owns Trail Head Outfitters & General Store, is hosting a puzzle relay to benefit the Wheeler Memorial Library, which has not had a major renovation since its construction in 1914. At least 10 people have signed up for a six-hour puzzle marathon of sorts, with others pledging money to the cause.

“It’s the same idea as a walking relay, where someone signs up to walk and gets sponsored by family and friends per mile or a flat donation,” Cook said.

The puzzle relay will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 1 South Main St.

In November 2022, Orange residents rejected by 58 votes a debt-exclusion override for the library, declining to authorize the ability to borrow up to $10.4 million to supplement a $5.2 million grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners for renovations. The vote failed 1291-1233, with 47% of registered voters casting ballots.

Library officials have said Wheeler Memorial Library at 49 East Main St. is falling into disrepair. At a presentation at Town Hall on Nov. 1, Library Director Jessica Magelaner said 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.

Magelaner previously explained that when renovation planning efforts began in 2016, the work was projected to cost roughly $9.9 million. With rising costs of construction, however, the project now has a price tag of $15.6 million.

With these prices, the $5.2 million state grant, which was originally expected to cover half the total project cost, now covers one-third. The Friends of the Orange Public Libraries group hope to go back to the state and ask for $5 million more in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding. Speaking during a library open house in January, Magelaner said she thinks the $10.4 million sought at November’s election was too high, but that residents might agree to borrowing $5 million.

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After borrowing was denied, the library applied for and received an extension to its state grant deadline, which was set to expire on Jan. 9. The new deadline for Orange to match the funds is April 30.

Cook said that as of Wednesday morning at least $2,000 had been pledged for those participating in Sunday’s puzzle relay. Also, local couple Peter and Candace Cross has pledged to match all donations up to $6,000.

“My mom was a librarian. I was a librarian. Peter and I love libraries,” said Candace, who was the children’s librarian at Wheeler for the final 11 years of her career and now serves as a library trustee.

She said she was extremely disheartened by November’s vote “and one way to feel less discouraged was to dig down deep.”

The Crosses are regular customers at Trail Head and Candace said Cook’s mother, Terry Bouchard, who owns Corner Cafe in the back of Trail Head, taught their children in nursery school years ago. The cafe is closed on Sundays but Bouchard will be on hand to serve cookies and coffee, and Cook mentioned Pizza Factory is donating food for the relay participants. Cook also said she will donate 20% of Trail Head’s Sunday sales to the library cause.

Cook said she got the idea for a puzzle relay from cafe employee Austina Towle, whose mother has multiple sclerosis and started hosting puzzle relay fundraisers once a year because they are accommodating of people’s physical limitations and the weather.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-930-4120.

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