One big book club: Norwell, Hanover officials discuss joining libraries

Dana Forsythe

During the past few months, officials in Norwell and Hanover have been doing some research on a unique, cost-cutting proposal.

The discussion is about sharing one public library between the two towns, a proposal Norwell library officials aren’t supporting.

During Hanover’s Selectmen’s meeting on Monday night (Nov. 30), the concept moved one step forward as the board of trustees for Hanover’s public library, The John Curtis Library, gave Hanover selectmen the green light to continue discussing the idea with Norwell officials.

In August, the Mariner reported that talks had begun between officials in the two towns to discuss whether shutting down the Norwell Public Library and having Norwell pay Hanover to participate in library services at the John Curtis Library could benefit both towns financially.

According to Hanover selectmen, the agreement, were it eventually to be approved by Town Meeting in Norwell and the Hanover library board of trustees, would result in the complete closure of the Norwell Public Library. The Town of Norwell would then pay the Town of Hanover for use of its public library with stipulations that could include expanded hours and services.

The proposal would have to be approved by a majority of voters at Town Meeting in Norwell, and according to Hanover officials, it could be on the Norwell Town Meeting warrant as early as May of 2010. On Hanover’s side, the proposal would merely require approval from the Library Board of Trustees.

Currently, the budgets for the two libraries are similar, as Hanover spends around $565,000 on library costs and the town of Norwell spends around $560,000. According to Hanover Selectmen David Greene, Norwell officials have expressed a desire to save at least $200,000 with the cost cutting measure in addition to saving on building or renovating the Norwell library.

Reached this week, Norwell Town Administrator Jim Boudreau said the proposal is still in its initial stages.

“We really don’t know how likely it is,” said Boudreau. “We’re no further along on this than when we last talked about it in August. We asked Hanover to put some numbers together for us and once we get them we’ll talk to the library and the trustees.”

“This is exactly what [Norwell] selectmen said they’d do at Town Meeting,” Boudreau added. “We’re no further along in the process than seeing what the numbers are and if they make sense.”

The Norwell Public Library, Director Becky Freer said this week, was opened in 1973 and has a collection of 65,000 items. The building is 8,500 square feet, and annually about 6,000 patrons make use of the library’s services.

 “Our circulation has been going up every year,” said Freer. “Last month it was at about 12,000 items. For a library of this size it is a very health circulation.”

Attendance for the library for fiscal year 2008 was around 67,000 visits, she said.

Freer said she has heard talk about the two libraries joining together but has yet to be approached by the Norwell Board of Selectmen officially with the idea.

“I think it is an outrageous and ridiculous idea,” she said. “For taxpayers to have invested their hard earned money in the library and the town, it would be a great disservice to shut us down.”

“I don’t understand how the Town of Hanover supports its library and education and we can’t,” she added. “The average median income in Norwell is around $108,000 and for us to have to give up our library is just absurd. Even Hull has a library offering services. It just amazes me.”

Freer said even if the Norwell Public Library were to close, there would still be costs associated with maintaining an empty building.

“You still have to pay for heat, insurance and unemployment for the workers,” she said.

Currently, the Norwell Public Library employs 12 people.

“We’ve been told by the selectmen to try and think outside the box to save money, but we’ve been given no respect,” Freer said. “They have yet to meet with us or the library’s board of trustees.”

In 2008, residents at Town Meeting voted to reinstate some library hours that had previously been trimmed, adding four more each week.

At that Town Meeting, a feasibility study to the tune of $50,000 was also approved to see if a town hall and library (two town departments) could be housed in the current town hall if expanded and renovated.

In March of this year after almost a year of planning and design, a proposal to move and combine several town services the idea was put on the back burner by Norwell selectmen.

At a meeting to unveil plans and an associated cost to move the library into Town Hall, Norwell’s Permanent Building and Maintenance Committee, headed by Glen Ferguson, presented the plans to the selectmen.

Citing the economic situation at the time and an ongoing exploration to regionalize some town services, Norwell Selectmen were reluctant about the million-dollar proposal.

Ferguson said the group would continue to look for funding in the way of grants, but an initial design of the building may be needed to do so. He priced that step at around $1.5 million.

The renovation part of the project, which would cover 25,600 square feet of the building would cost $6.4 million while the addition of the library to the building, some 15,000 square feet would run $4.4 million, bringing the total price tag to $10.8 million.

Freer said that last year when the Norwell Public Library was considering a renovation of its South Street building to the tune of $9 million it was awarded a grant for a third of the cost through the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners.

“The plans we studied to move the library into Town Hall would probably cost around $15 million now,” she said. “So the library portion would be about half of that but I’m optimistic that we could probably get about half of our share paid for with a grant. If we went with a green building, we could get an addition 2 percent of the total cost of project paid for by the state.”

“The town definitely needs a new town hall and a new library and this would be one way to go,” she added. “We’ve already put thousands into the feasibility study.”

Henry Goldman, chairman of the Norwell Public Library Board of Trustees said he hasn’t heard much about the proposal from town officials.

“I’ve heard a few rumblings but that’s about it,” he said. “Disappointment would be an understatement. We kind of feel like second-class citizens since this has moved forward without any communication from the town.”

Goldman said he understands the town is interested in cost cutting measures but feels left out of the process.

“If this were to become a reality it would be a travesty to the community of Norwell,” he said.

Lorraine Welsh, director of the John Curtis Library in Hanover, said when she first heard about the idea a few months ago, she contacted the state’s Board of Library Commissioners, which oversees the state’s libraries.

“Norwell was concerned that they’d be decertified if this went through, but I was told as long as they have a contract with us and are contributing money towards library services, they’ll be okay,” she said.

Were the idea to become reality, a potential result at the Hanover library could be adding services, Hanover Selectman Dan Pallotta said, including additional hours during the week, additional staff and expanded hours on Saturday and Sunday. If the proposal were to be approved, Norwell’s collection of books, DVDs and other materials would be loaned to the John Curtis Library and returned were Norwell to open the library again in the future.