Residents deny funds for Orange library renovations

  • Wheeler Memorial Library in Orange. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 11/8/2022 10:13:29 PM

ORANGE — Residents turned down a debt-exclusion override for the Wheeler Memorial Library by 58 votes at the ballot box Tuesday, which would have authorized the ability to borrow up to $10.4 million to supplement a $5 million state grant for a renovation project.

The vote failed 1291-1233, which Library Director Jessica Magelaner said left her “very disappointed,” but she said this is not the end of the road for the Wheeler Memorial Library renovation project. She noted this was an “amazing turnout” for Orange in a midterm election, as 47% of registered voters cast their votes.

“We’re going to meet again this coming Thursday,” Magelaner said Tuesday evening, referencing the library trustees and the Library Building Committee. “We’ll see where we go from there.”

The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners grant expires in early January, and without the approval to borrow money and match the grant, Orange may miss out on this funding.

With borrowing being voted down for now, Magelaner said there is still a chance that the state provides American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money, which could come after Orange joined Deerfield and several other towns across the state to request additional money for MBLC grant projects. The Wheeler Memorial Library project’s original cost estimate was approximately $9.9 million.

“There’s still the option on the table of maybe getting ARPA money from the state,” Magelaner said of the possibility of bringing the vote back to residents at a reduced borrowing cost if ARPA money is granted. “If we get another $5.6 million, are we going to revote this?” she asked.

Additionally, Orange can file for a grant extension with the MBLC to give the town more time to appropriate money to match the grant. If Orange gets the ARPA money, then Magelaner said an extension would be a “worthwhile” pursuit.

On top of state election decisions, voters at the polls Tuesday gave several explanations for their votes on the debt exclusion.

Alec MacLeod, a director and co-founder of LaunchSpace, a nonprofit, member-based community workshop that operates out of the Orange Innovation Center, said outside the polls at 62 Cheney St. that he voted in favor of the debt exclusion.

“For one thing, we’re in the information age. And what are libraries for but to provide access to information?” he said, adding that his mother was professor emeritus of library science at the University of Maryland.

“So it comes in the blood. But the other thing is, it’s a community center. It’s extremely important to our kids, just extremely important. I mean, mine are grown and out of town now, but they spent a lot of time at the library, and to upgrade the children’s section in particular, and to make it ADA compliant, I think it’s just really important.

“This community is right at the cusp of moving upwards,” MacLeod said. “And a lot of us have put a lot of work into that and are poised to do a lot more.”

Resident Jeannette Calvi voted “no” on the library question because of the effect the project could have on taxes.

“Because I just feel that what we have is good enough and we just got taxed really big on the school,” she commented. “I don’t have any kids in the school district, and I’ve brought my kids up already, and I don’t think I should be paying more taxes for something that I don’t use.”

With the election over, Magelaner said their push for more money may be more fruitful with new officials in office, but for now, that will have to wait.

“For tonight, we need to sit and think for a bit,” Magelaner said, “and regroup for Thursday and decide from there.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at or 413-930-4081. Domenic Poli contributed reporting.


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