The Benton Library

I’ve had conversations with several friends in the Benton library area in Belmont who have sought my advice about how to interact with the town as the town decides what to do with the property.

I wanted to summarize what I said in those conversations for the record — one of the goals of this site is to avoid dueling interpretations of things that I have said:

  1. This is a town issue and one that, as state representative, I have no role in — my thoughts are offered only as friendly counsel.
  2. The best way to influence the process is to be present at the meetings of the town committee that is considering the issue; people who regularly attend committee meetings are generally afforded a good degree of participation, even if they are not formally on the committee. In addition, in a judicious way, people should not hesitate to contact the Selectmen directly.
  3. The town faces a long term financial squeeze and the Selectmen should and will make hard-nosed financial decisions in the disposition of town assets — that is their fiduciary duty to all of the people of the town. It is true that their fiduciary duties are not only financial, and include the preservation of the character of the town, but they cannot afford to ignore financial concerns. There is little probability that at any time in the forseeable future the town will be flush with money.
  4. I have a personal view that a sale of the property subject to deed restrictions requiring historical preservation is a clean transaction that could benefit the town — we had basically good experiences selling the firestations. If the property is leased rather than sold it will continue to demand management attention, which is often the scarcest resource in any organization.
  5. There are probably very quiet users who could be found for the property who would also be capable of paying a fair price for the property. As one example, a resident of the area (long a friend and acquaintance of mine) has expressed to at least one Selectman an interest in acquiring the property for use as a home office.
  6. However, I have made no systematic study of the real estate market for purchase or for lease, so my incoming view should be taken with a grain of salt. The views of those who have recently studied the issue should be given much greater credence.
  7. The final decision as to how dispose of the property must be made based on a well-noticed competitive public request-for-proposal process managed by the Selectmen.

I hope that the above is a complete and accurate summary of what I said in informal conversations. My views on this subject are of little consequence as the subject is not within my official purview, but if anyone does wish to request a clarification of my views on this issue, please do so through this website — that way, there will be no confusion as to what I have said.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

5 replies on “The Benton Library”

  1. Thanks Will. Is there any way to get this out to the ONA membership so that there isn’t any confusion?

  2. It broke my heart to lose the Benton as a library, but that’s water under the bridge. I agree that Belmont can and should find an appropriate new neighbor-friendly use for the building with the preservation restrictions you mention. There’s nothing less good for the neighborhood or town than an unoccupied building. I also think the process you suggest is a good one.

    Meanwhile, let’s keep Belmont Memorial Library and the school libraries vibrant.

  3. Broadly, there’s a question whether government should sell off assets into a recession, or do what it can to use them to aid the local economy.

    In the long term, it ought to be in the Town’s interest to keep Benton,
    — Historic buildings increase the value of nearby real estate.
    — It is a walkable public building only minutes from a bus line. With rising energy costs, the Town may need decentralized buildings again.
    — It is a low maintenance building of stone.
    — It is near Chenery Middle School, and could be used for an after-school program or student study place, without the costs of keeping Chenery open after hours.
    — The Town in all likelihood will want to restore a branch library some day, the way towns like Newton, Wellesley, and Arlington are now reopening their branches in some form.
    — The Town owns many other parcels, some more suitable for private ownership or development than a fully built, functional public facility like Benton.

  4. With respect to Will’s point #6, as I understand it, the Selectmen asked the Benton Reuse Committee to look into whether leasing or selling the property would be more finally benficial to the town. The Reuse Committee found that leasing would be more beneficial and would allow the Town to use the building again in the future, if this made sense.

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