The final design for the new Winthrop public library has been approved by the Town Council, including compliance with the town’s Westernization code.
But the council and Friends of the Winthrop Public Library (FOWL), the nonprofit organization formed to build the library and then turn it over to the town, are still wrangling over whether FOWL should have to pay building permit fees and water and sewer system development fees that would ordinarily be associated with construction expected to cost around $5 million.
That discussion continued at last week’s Town Council meeting, and remains unresolved.
At an earlier meeting, a majority of the council raised concerns about FOWL’s request that the fees — totaling about $70,000 in all — be waived. Council members were reluctant to give FOWL a break on the fees without more information. Mayor Sally Ranzau and council member Ben Nelson countered that the library will belong to the town, and it makes no sense for the town to charge itself fees for a building that it will own.
FOWL is raising private funds to build the new library. A $2 million state grant has also been allocated for the project. The library will be built on a .81-acre parcel property purchased by the Town of Winthrop at the intersection of White Avenue and Norfolk Road. FOWL subsequently acquired private funds to purchase an adjacent .92-acre parcel to provide more room for parking and better traffic flow.
The 7,300-square-foot completed building will be turned over to the town of Winthrop. It will include community space that will be maintained by the town. Groundbreaking for the new library is expected in early summer 2020, with opening scheduled for early 2022. The building is being designed by Johnston Associates and PBW Architects, and will replace the existing, cramped facility in Winthrop.
In a letter to the council last week, FOWL Executive Director Jill Sheley again requested that the town consider waiving the fees. FOWL is continuing to seek more donations but hasn’t generated all the pledges it needs, Sheley said. She said FOWL has been working hard to pare costs wherever it can.
“In addition to private individual donations and grants raised to date, FOWL will seek financial support from businesses and the community at large (but only when appropriate due to the coronavirus crisis),” Sheley said in the letter to the council. “Furthermore, FOWL expects to ask everyone involved in the library’s design and construction, such as subcontractors and engineers, for in-kind contributions that reduce costs.”
Being relieved of the town fees, Sheley said, “has a very significant impact on our ability to break ground this June … Freeing up these fees means we can better meet our donors’ expectations for a wonderful library experience.”
At last week’s meeting — conducted remotely using the Zoom streaming service for the first time — Ranzau said she’s not sure the town can waive the utility system development fees, which total about $20,000. “If we were building it, what would we charge ourselves?” the mayor asked.
Town Clerk Michelle Gaines said this week that waiving system development fees apparently would require updating the town code. In answer to a question about an earlier project, Gaines confirmed that the town did not charge building permit fees for the Winthrop Rink, a town-owned facility that was “considered exempt.”
Ranzau said the library is the largest construction project the town has seen, and figuring out how to deal with it raises come uncertainties. “It’s an unknown” as to how much staff time might be required for the building permit process, she said.
Councilmember Bill McAdow noted that the project “will impact the workload of our staff. It’s a big building.”
“We will own the building,” Nelson said. Ranzau added that “we asked them [FOWL] to build it” and the fees issue “is making it more difficult for them.”
FOWL board president Shannon Polson, speaking remotely, said that “FOWL only exists to give this [library] to the town.”
Every aspect of the building’s planning and development “has been very carefully managed by everyone on the team,” Polson said. Any shortfalls that have to be made up for “will come out of your building,” she said.
Councilmember Joseph O’Driscoll asked why the waiver request “coming so late in the process.” He said lost revenue related to the COVID-19 crisis could put the town in a financial bind. “We might need the money for something else,” he said. “Now we are in a situation where it’s not easy to waive the fees.”
Sheley, also speaking remotely, said FOWL budgeted for the fees from the beginning of the process. “We’ve had a budget item for fees from the first day,” she said. “We’ve looked at every single dollar we had on the table.”
McAdow suggested that a discount from the full fees might be something to consider.
“We were surprised at the amount [of the fees],” Polson said. “We would appreciate any consideration you can give us.”
Nelson noted that the town’s 2020 revenue budget doesn’t include the building fees that would be charged to the library project — and in fact, “this would exceed our budgeted revenue from building fees,” Nelson said. In other words, the town would be asking FOWL to provide money the town had not been expecting.
Nelson reiterated that the library “will be our building” and added that “it doesn’t seem like everyone on the council is getting that.” Nelson moved to waive the fees, but his motion did not get a second.
Councilmember William Kilby said he wants to make a well-informed decision and asked for a better calculation of how much staff time will be required. “If we knew the costs, I think people would support it,” Kilby said. Ranzau said she would try to gather that information.
In other action, the council quickly approved FOWL’s application for Westernization compliance in the building’s exterior design, per a recommendation by the Westernization Design Review Board. The council also adopted without discussion a resolution approving the new library’s overall design.
In other business, the council approved several resolutions related to property transactions that will result in convenient access to the Meadowlark Natural Area near the Sullivan Cemetery when it is developed, including a trailhead and parking area.
In the council members’ comment portion of the meeting, O’Driscoll said he has been asked why several sporting goods businesses in downtown Winthrop are open under the governor’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” directives. Ranzau said the stores are considered “essential” and exempt because they sell clothing and equipment that could be considered “survival gear.”