$23.3M library project approved.

AuthorThompson, Elaine

Byline: Elaine Thompson

SHREWSBURY -- Just as they did in 2011, voters at the special town meeting Monday night overwhelmingly approved a multimillion-dollar library renovation-expansion project.

The next step is for the project to receive majority approval at a special election Nov. 5.

In 2011, the project was defeated at the subsequent election by only 153 votes. The project was 10 percent larger in 2011 and would have cost more than $18 million. The current 38,600-square-foot project is estimated to cost $23.3 million.

The town has until the end of December to agree to fund its share of the project, $13.6 million, in order to receive a nearly $8 million grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners. The remainder of the cost, $1.75 million, would come from fundraising.

The library, built in 1903 with add-ons in 1923 and 1979, is about 25,500 square feet. Comprehensive renovation of the library is estimated to cost $12.8 million. But the state grant and the fundraising revenue would not be available for renovation.

Some opponents of the project said it is too big, too costly and designed for the last century.

"The digital revolution has taken hold and it has essentially ended the need for the library's physical size to increase,'' said Brian Austin, Precinct 7 town meeting member and chairman of the Committee for a Smaller Library. "Does it make sense to build this warehouse for paper books when five years after this is built 90 percent of books will be electronic?''

Errol Ethier from Precinct 5 said public libraries are not going to become obsolete as some opponents claim.

He said the rate of growth of e-books has been declining. They represented about 20 percent of all consumer book sales last year. He said they are expected to peak and stabilize at about 30 percent of all annual consumer book sales, he said.

The number of weekday patrons to the library has increased from 638 in fiscal 2000 to 1,000 in fiscal 2013.

In other business Monday night, voters addressed several zoning bylaw changes.

Voters agreed to convert 50,500 square feet of the former Spag's warehouse building property in the area of Maple Avenue, Oak Street and Route 9 from Residence B-1 to Commercial-Business. The property was purchased in...

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