GUILFORD — With 10 percent of the town's registered voters having signed a petition asking for a revote, voters will reconsider the March 1 Annual Town Meeting decision to renovate and expand the Guilford Free Library.
The project, at an anticipated cost of $1,013,300 will be reconsidered at a Special Town Meeting Tuesday, May 24.
Polls will be open at the town office from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. The question will be handled via Australian ballot, as was the original.
The article will again include the provision that caps the project financing to $205,000 of the total renovation cost for up to 30 years, that it be subject to available grant funding, and that the town reallocate $195,000 in money held with the Vermont Municipal Bond Bank originally allocated to a water project that was paid for by other means.
By law, 5 percent of the town's registered voters needed to sign a petition to reconsider a vote. That would have been 87 voters. The petition presented to the Selectboard included 150 legal signatures, said Town Clerk Penny Marine.
By state law, this revote is not as simple as just getting voters to the polls and seeing who got more this time around.
The original March 1 vote of 348–333 approved the plan by just 15 votes. If the new vote on May 24 is “no,” it would have to be by a margin of 67 percent of the March 1 vote of 333 “no” votes - thus, opponents would need 223 “no” votes to stop the project.
“The Selectboard is in contact with the Vermont League of Cities and Towns to learn all the guidelines to move through his process,” said new Selectboard Chair Zon Estes at the board's April 11 meeting.
He noted that the process to reconsider “must run exactly or nearly similarly to the March 1 vote,” with the same language in the article, with the voting by Australian ballot again, and with the revote scheduled within 60 days of the petition's receipt.
Absentee ballots must also be sent to all those who requested them for the March 1 meeting, whether or not they are again requested by those voters.
The town is also obliged to host some kind of pre-vote informational hearing between May 14 and 24.
“There may be many other ways in which the community can discuss this issue,” Eastes said, noting he's seen online discussions taking place already.
A confusing statute
At the board's April 11 meeting, former chair Richard Wizansky, speaking remotely via Zoom, said that his read of the applicable statute is that if a revote is to overturn an original vote, it must do so by more than a two-thirds majority of the original vote.
He also noted the town could agree to change that percentage, doing so by a vote conducted before the actual revote.
“I'm not inclined to do that,” said Eastes.
“I'm not inclined, either, but I thought it was something we should be aware of,” said Wizansky.
Eastes said after the meeting he will confer with town counsel also regarding any potential change to the percentage by which a reversal of the March 1 vote could be effected.
However, a representative in the Vermont Elections Division office clarified somewhat by phone Tuesday.
The person said that just because the statute says something can be done, “it doesn't mean they have to do it.” Thus, the Selectboard is not obliged to ask voters if they wish to change the two-thirds percentage needed by current statute to reverse the March 1 vote.
Changing that percentage would affect all votes unless again changed. The petition to reconsider the March 1 vote did not include a request to change the percentage by which it could potentially be reversed.
“This reconsideration is outlined in some detail by Vermont statute,” Eastes said Tuesday. “Because the law is a bit complicated, the Selectboard is moving with care and deliberation. We have benefited from legal guidance from both the Vermont League of Cities and Towns and the town's attorney.”
Both the Selectboard and Finance Committee had supported the library expansion project.
At a Feb. 2 informational meeting via Zoom, about a dozen residents heard and saw the plan to add about 2,000 square feet to the 1891 clapboard building and remove the about 100-square-foot addition built in 2004.
Designer Isaac Wagner worked on the plan with architects Jeff Goldstone and Jack Byer of Goldstone Architects in Bennington.
The Friends of the Guilford Free Library group and the town had set money aside. Also, a grant will fund a feasibility study and full environmental review, complete with archeological digging and more, that was made in summer 2021.
Librarian Cathi Wilken estimates the current 4,000-book collection at the library - jammed into shelves so closely that when one pulls one out, several more accompany it - can be doubled if the new space is created.
The library is one of the oldest continuously operating public libraries in Vermont. Founded in 1890 per a bequest from Cynthia King, she left money to the town to buy books with the caveat that the town also had to build or somehow acquire a building to keep them in.
That building was erected on land owned by William Barney for $300 and the Guilford Free Library opened on July 2, 1892, although historical annals indicate the town maintained a small, public library from 1790 to 1815.
The proposal includes a two-story addition on the back of the building with room for expansion and a room or two for private conversations/video conferencing plus an indoor activity space for children that can be accessed separately even when the library is not open.
An elevator, restrooms, upgraded electrical, and HVAC systems and storage are also included, as are any mandated code upgrades.
The plan includes two additional accessible parking spaces at the lower level and new walkways plus an entrance plaza and back patio with access to the activity area and yard.
The second floor of the two-story addition includes cathedral ceilings with a lot of natural light and a central work area. It is in a high-performance envelope, with energy-efficient equipment and ventilation. Wide fiber-cement siding will be on the new structure, and it will have a metal roof.
The original building is about 770 square feet. The 100-square-ft. addition built in 2004 will be removed, and 965 square feet will be added to the lower level and 1,073 to the upper level.
Before the March vote, the town had about 60 percent of the money to pay for it in hand and planned to raise the remaining 40 percent. The $195,000 that voters will again be asked to redirect to the library project is from about 12 years ago when residents approved a bond for a housing project in Algiers Village.
In the end, that project received other funding to complete a water line, and the town never used the approved money.
Because it has previously been approved for a different specific use, to use it for the library expansion voters must reauthorize it for a new use.