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December 12. 2012 10:44PM

Despite Epping selectmen's concerns, library plan to go to voters

EPPING - A $2.3 million plan to build a new public library will likely go to a vote in March without the support of selectmen.

At a meeting Monday, selectmen urged library trustees to shelve the project amid concerns about proposed school and town spending that could lead to a $2 increase on the tax rate next year.

Selectman Jim McGeough said an expansion of the library is long overdue, but he feels trustees should hold off for a year given increases in the proposed school budget, a $2.5 million proposal to buy land with wells to increase the town's water supply and avoid a shortage, and other big-ticket items.

"This town cannot afford over a $2 increase. I think we're in for one heck of a shakeup at the polls," he told trustees and fellow selectmen.

Trustees have spent months drawing up plans for a new building to replace the cramped Harvey-Mitchell Memorial Library. The new 9,600-square-foot library would be built next to the existing 48-year-old building on Main Street at the site of the town's old fire station.

Under the plan, the fire station would be torn down to make room for the new library while the old library would be demolished and replaced with a park.

Library trustee Heather Clark, board chairman, said she understood the selectmen's financial concerns, but questioned whether anything would be different a year from now.

"Where are we going to be next year? What's going to come up next year that you're going to say, 'You know what? Well sure, we got the water passed, which I think the town needs and I'm in support of that. So if the focus goes to the water this year and we push the library back for a year and then next year you say, 'Oh well, you know, we really need to build the new rec building . can you hold off another year?'" she told selectmen.

In addition to spending concerns, McGeough and other selectmen said they would like to keep the old library instead of removing it for a park. They said the building could be used for school administrative offices if the town's recreation department moved to the current school office building.

The future of the recreation department is uncertain after it was forced to vacate its home at Watson Academy following damage likely caused by an earthquake in October.

Selectmen are awaiting a final engineering report to determine whether it's worth repairing Watson Academy or finding a new permanent location for the recreation department, which is now temporarily housed in school buildings and the town hall.

McGeough said he would like trustees to revisit their proposal to see if the project could address the recreation department's needs.

"We have to house rec. The library is housed right now, but we're going to have to do something with housing rec, and I feel that we need to move that into this type of plan," he said.

A majority of library trustees want to move ahead with plans to seek voter approval in March but likely won't take a formal vote until next week.

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Jason Schreiber may be reached at jschreiber@newstote.com.


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