The long-awaited replacement of the HVAC system at the Bedford Free Public Library has hit a snag so serious that Director Richard Callaghan called a special meeting of the Trustees on Wednesday night to review the situation.
At the May 2021 Annual Town Meeting, voters approved $2.5 million for the cost of replacing the HVAC system, such appropriation to be bonded. At the same meeting, the Town appropriated $6.4 million for an addition to and renovation of the Bedford Police Station, which work was already underway.
The Bedford Facilities Department was charged with carrying out both of these projects. Both were capital expenditures.
During the intervening two years, despite numerous requests from Director Callaghan, there was little action on the library project. The project eventually went out for bids twice, but only two firms responded and the bids were much higher than $2.5 million.
The Director and the Trustees are now faced with two options:
- Go back to the town at the fall Special Town Meeting with a request for an additional $700,000 to $800,000, which the Facilities department appears reluctant, or
- Close the library beginning in the fall for “up to six months” to complete the project. The driver here is the lower labor cost as the firm doing the job could work during regular business hours. The original plan was for work to be done “off-hours” and weekends, both of which would necessitate overtime pay.
The reaction from the Trustees to this news was generally one of outrage.
Long time Trustee Rachel Field said, “I am appalled” at the thought of closing the library for a long period of time.
Trustees Fahad Alden and Padma Choudry pointed out how essential the library building is during the winter months for some residents who rely on it as a warm place to be, not to mention the loss of the building to local college students and public school students who depend on the collection.
Callaghan was adamant that under no circumstances would he consider laying off staff. He said “that it would be possible, although difficult and a strain on staff, to continue curbside service as it was provided during the pandemic. Children’s story hours could be relocated to Town Center or other town buildings.”
Strong feelings emerged during the lengthy discussion with the belief that the library project had been neglected in favor of completing the police station, with the result that costs skyrocketed in the intervening two years since the renovation article was passed.
And as interim Chair Mike Pulizzi pointed out, “Now the Town is dealing with the fire station project, which could mean a further delay in starting the Library HVAC replacement.” He also had concerns, pointing out that since Facilities Director Taissir Alani has left, who in the department would oversee the job?
Some discussion centered on the installation of gas boilers vs electric – as the town aims to phase out fossil fuel use to achieve NetZero status. Some cost savings might be gained if gas boilers were installed with preparation for putting in electric boilers “somewhere down the road,” but this partial solution was not favored by all.
Callaghan explained, “the Select Board wants our (Trustees) input, but it has the final decision on capital expenditures.”
As thoughts among the Trustees coalesced, the decisions of the evening were to request a hybrid (Zoom) meeting of the Trustees and the Select Board as soon as possible. Callaghan will also ask interim town Manager Colleen Doyle to include the Library HVAC on the agenda for their regular Tuesday, July 11 meeting.
Note: When the hybrid meeting is posted, we will announce it with the Zoom link.