Brewster Library Construction Cost Estimates Soar

By: Bronwen Walsh

Topics: Brewster Ladies' Library

Established in 1852, the Brewster Ladies Library was last renovated in 1985. PHOTO COURTESY OF BREWSTER LADIES LIBRARY

While Awaiting Word On State Funding

BREWSTER – Design and construction plans for enlarging the Brewster Ladies’ Library envision a new, lower-level main entrance, double the circulation space, and a new enclosed outdoor space for children.

But the price tag just went way up.

Joan Pernice, president of the Brewster Ladies’ Library, on July 25 briefed the select board on where the library’s state grant application stands.

“There is a push right now, especially because [Gov.] Baker is retiring, to finish library projects,” Pernice said. “Several million dollars have been added to library projects statewide.”

Pernice figures Brewster is No. 4 or 5 on the application waitlist for $4.6 million in state funding.

However, she said an original $10 million construction cost estimate from 2015 has now topped $16 million, including $10 million for construction alone.
“We were quite surprised at these numbers,” she said.

Select board member Kari Hoffman shared with the board statistics quoted on “CBS Sunday Morning” illustrating that libraries all over the country are changing to meet the needs of the community, especially post-COVID.

While overall attendance at U.S. libraries fell 21 percent between 2009 and 2019, borrowing of library materials increased 55 percent during the same period, Hoffman said.

“The Brewster Ladies’ Library is a treasure in our community,” said select board member Mary Chaffee, “but the latest numbers are sobering. If there were any ways to more conservatively plan some aspects, there would be stronger support in the community.”

Said select board member Cindy Bingham, “I hear a lot of comments around town. We have a 140-year-old senior center. We need a community center that is someplace safe for people to go. All the money we’re looking at, it all comes from the same people.”

Town Administrator Peter Lombardi said the town is taking a fresh look at how the project could be funded.

“The new cost estimate is really just making a series of assumptions around annual cost estimates,” Lombardi said. “It still is really an estimate.”

The $4.6 million Brewster stands to get from the state is “capped out. That’s important to keep in mind,” Lombardi said. “What we don’t know is when we’ll be notified. It's likely that we’re going to know in January.”

With that in mind, Lombardi said he would recommend applying for $300,000 in Community Preservation Act funds for design this coming December and seeking approval of $300,000 in free cash at the spring town meeting in May.

The Brewster Ladies’ Library Association has pledged $2 million, which leaves a little over $7 million of project costs that would need to be financed by a voter-approved debt exclusion, Lombardi said. If approved, construction would begin in fall 2023.

“We want the final design to reflect current needs and future needs,” he said. “We want to be sure there’s funding to do that work.”