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Guest columnist Amanda Alix: A new library for Shutesbury: Does the cost outweigh the need?

  • The M.N. Spear Memorial Library in Shutesbury center. PAUL FRANZ



Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Once again, Shutesbury voters are being asked to fund a new library at annual Town Meeting. This time, town officials propose borrowing $1.2 million in addition to committing $638,000 of the town’s cash reserves to this project.

There has been much talk about how the people of Shutesbury “need” a new library. The current building is too small, the argument goes, and has no water or septic.

These are not insurmountable problems. Our small library functions extremely well and is second in circulation among towns with populations below 2,000. The CW MARS system and broadband access make building size less important than in the past since library visits are often brief or altogether unnecessary in order to use many of its services.

Water and septic service was always an option for our small library, evidenced by the 2001 expansion plans. For some reason, library officials never asked that the work be done until very recently.

What is true is that some residents of Shutesbury think we need a new library. They characterize such a project in emotional terms, inferring it will build community even as the animosity from the last library grant round in 2010 resurfaces.

There are also issues with Lot O-32, the proposed site for this project. A soil bore test overseen by environmental assessment firm O’Reilly, Talbot & Okun showed reportable levels of volatile petroleum hydrocarbons. This discovery prompted a decision by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection to classify this site, or portions thereof, as a waste disposal site under MGL Chapter 21E, the State Superfund Law.

The testing of the well on Lot O-32 revealed no VOCs, PFAS, or PCBs. However, OTO notes the water is not potable and needs further assessment from an expert in that field.

Remediating these problems will cost money. How much? No one seems to know.

What Shutesbury really needs is lower taxes. Our tax rate of $21.83 is the fourth highest in Massachusetts, and our hefty average tax bill puts our town at No. 167 out of 351 communities. Borrowing for a new library and a new dump truck while using up a good portion of our cash reserves will only increase our taxes.

Meanwhile, an urgent infrastructure project, the replacement of the asphalt section of the Shutesbury Elementary School roof, is still not funded — despite town officials acknowledging chronic leaks since at least 2014.

Shutesbury has many problems that need attention. Building a new, expensive library is not one of them.

Amanda Alix lives in Shutesbury.