Guess What? Library Elevator on the Ballot for March

Last night the Pawlet Select Board unanimously voted to put the $300,000 Library Elevator Project on the March 3rd ballot for town vote.

Folks, I love the library. Everyone in that room last night loves the library. I have yet to speak to a person who doesn’t love our local library. But this is a project I believe our town cannot afford.

The librarian explained that grant money is being pursued to help fund the project. But we all know that grant money is not assured, and virtually all of the examples she cited are matching grants.

What was most glaring to me about this meeting was what preceded the library discussion. Like at so many Select Board meetings, the head of our Town Road Crew, Keith Mason, gave a lengthy description of the state of our road budget, which is likely to be woefully short this year. He explained that we are not yet halfway through the fiscal year, yet already 65% through our annual allotted road crew funds. In fact there were folks in attendance expressly to complain that their road is virtually impassable. (I also spoke to people who wanted to attend the meeting last night but could not because their road is currently impassable.)

What shocks me is that our Road Crew is put in an impossible position of having to fix and maintain our roads during a difficult winter, without the sufficient resources to do so. We are talking here about maintaining the infrastructure of our town, without which our residents cannot get to work, cannot get to the grocery store, cannot function.

We are a town that can’t afford to keep all its roads open, yet we are proposing to spend over a quarter of a million dollars to create handicapped access to a building that already has ADA compliant handicapped access. To access a basement meeting room when we already have a lovely historic auditorium across the street in the Town Hall with a handicapped accessible elevator. 

If it were free? Maybe. But we all know it won’t be free.

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Here are the comments I read last night at the Pawlet Select Board Meeting:

As a longtime fan of the Pawlet Library and as a founding member of the Pawlet Projects Committee, which raised over $250,000 to convert the schoolhouse into the library’s new home back in 2002, as well as a former Library Board member, I would respectfully like to submit the following comment.

For the last year I’ve been attending Select Board meetings and Library Board meetings in hopes of having a complete understanding of the proposed Library elevator project, but in that time I have yet to hear a compelling argument for it.

The first argument I heard is that the Select Board wants this project, and so the library should go along with it in order to maintain a good relationship with the Select Board. But the Select Board seems far from united in their feelings about this proposal. Even if they were unanimous, this by itself would not justify spending $300,000 on a project, if that project does not make sense.

The second argument that I have heard is that it would resolve the problem that falling ice and snow presents for the existing handicapped access ramp. However, for a fraction of the cost of this proposed elevator, the town could add either snow guards or a ramp roof to resolve this.

The third argument I have heard is that the library has a new Strategic Plan that calls for providing places “for people to gather for social activities and community discussions.” But the strategic plan does not call for an elevator to the basement- it calls for meeting spaces. This is something we already have – not only in the library itself, but in other locations around town that may be used by the library and have been- the gym at the Mettawee Community School, the meeting room in the Pawlet Community Church, and the historic auditorium on the second floor of the Pawlet Town Hall. All of these spaces are handicapped accessible, and one of them, the Town Hall auditorium, is only steps away from the library itself.

The fourth argument I’ve heard, only recently- this morning- is that this is an effort to honor Matt Waite. If that is the case, I’m surprised this hasn’t come up in conversations about the project prior to now. I’m also very surprised that no one contacted Kellie Waite to let her know about this plan. Instead, I was the one to tell her about this project, when I called her to ask her what she thought of it.

We’ve already spent well over $12,000 on a misguided project. Are we really going to propose to the voters of Pawlet that we spend time, energy, and hundreds of thousands of dollars on a project that no one seems to love, and no one has asked for?— When there are so many other things Pawlet very much needs? We do need new library front steps. We do need a new town garage. As one Select Board member put it, this proposal seems like using a hand grenade to kill a housefly. It is a bad, heavy-handed solution to a nonexistent problem. It does not belong on the ballot.