Edgartown selectmen balk at increased library cost overruns

The cost of the new Edgartown Library, now under construction, has increased. — Photo by Steve Myrick

The Edgartown library building committee appeared before selectmen Monday to ask for an increase in an annual town meeting warrant article library request from $225,000 to $484,173 in order to complete the new town library. By consensus, selectmen declined to increase the amount, and approved the warrant article as first presented.

Instead, voters will confront a request for $225,000 to cover cost overruns at the annual town meeting on April 14.

“That’s too much of an amount, at this stage, to ask for,” said Selectman Margaret Serpa.

Selectman Michael Donaroma, who also sits on the library building committee, said if voters approve the town meeting warrant to appropriate $225,000, it will be enough to finish a “bare bones” project, but it will require shifting money in the project budget, and could delay the scheduled summer opening of the library.

“It seems like you’re really tying the hands of the building committee in our process of trying to make the building the best that it could be,” said committee member Richard Knight.

Edgartown library trustee Deanna Ahearn-Laird said the building committee has discussed shifting money earmarked for furniture to finish the project. She said that would complicate the final stages of construction, because of lead time needed for purchases.

“If we wait until the very end, we would have to open the library without any furniture,” Ms. Ahearn-Laird said.

Unforeseen costs

Project manager Rick Pomeroy said $217,851 in cost overruns stem from a variety of unforeseen expenses, and an initial construction bid that was higher than anticipated. He said previous cost overruns were absorbed in the current project budget.

“We have performed a lot of value engineering,” Mr. Pomeroy told selectmen. “We have recognized a lot of cost savings. We’re looking at needing some more money to complete the project.”

The contractor, Maron Construction of Providence, R.I., ran into unforeseen expenses from the start, when water began filling the excavation for the building. Solving the water-table issues cost an additional $106,943.

Other unexpected expenses Mr. Pomeroy cited were removal of an underground storage tank, fencing around the project, and removal and disposal of asbestos piping.

Selectman Michael Donaroma said the project remains on track for a summer opening.

“We have a beautiful building that’s two-thirds of the way done,” said Mr. Donaroma. “The townspeople have voted overwhelmingly two or three times that they want this. We’ve just got to get it done. We’ll do it.”

Donor dilemma

The $10.3 million construction project is funded with a $5 million grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, $5.2 million in tax dollars, and a $110,000 gift from the Edgartown Library Foundation, the nonprofit organization formed to raise money for a new library.

In its 2012 tax records, the library foundation reported assets of $452,809. That was the last year tax records are available, and before the $110,000 gift to the library project reduced the foundation’s assets on hand.

The library building committee and the library foundation have had a long and contentious relationship. The library foundation originally raised money to build a new library at the site of the current facility, the Carnegie building on North Water Street. That project was eventually scrapped. The foundation has been reluctant to release the remaining donations for the new project near the Edgartown School.

At Monday’s meeting, selectman Art Smadbeck pressed the library foundation to release the rest of the money it has collected from donors.

“If they’ve collected these funds from the residents of Edgartown for a library, and if they’re not going to give those funds to the library, they should give it back to the people who donated the money,” Mr. Smadbeck said.

Ms. Serpa said asking taxpayers for additional money would remove an incentive for the library foundation to release the remaining donations.

“It’s going to take community pressure to get them to release that money,” she said.

Ms. Ahearn-Laird was skeptical about the library foundation releasing the remaining donations. “I don’t think we’re at a point where they are able or willing to transfer the funds, because they’re under restriction for where the library was going to be, the old Carnegie building.”