By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
MEREDITH — On the eve of voting whether to leave the Benjamin M. Smith Memorial Library for a new home, the Board of Trustees of the Meredith Public Library yesterday briefed the Board of Selectmen on the implications of a decision to move from the building that housed the library for the past 115 years.
Beverly Heyduk, who chairs the Board of Trustees, told the selectmen that after holding public meeting and sounding public opinion since January, the trustees expect to reach a decision when they meet today. Erin Apostolos, the librarian, said that opinion surveys indicated that nearly two-thirds of those polled favored building a new library.
Ron Lamarre of Lavellee Brensinger Architects explained that the priorities are to provide for the library of the future that can operate within its current budget and without additional personnel while having space to expand both its programs and parking. He said that a new library of 14,000 square feet built on one level would have twice the space of the existing building and would more than halve operating costs to between $1.50 and $1.75 per square foot.
Duncan McNeish, a longtime trustee, reminded the selectmen that cost of renovating the existing library building as well as bringing into compliance with building and fire codes, is estimated at $5.6 million, compared to the $4.2 million required to construct a new library.
Attorney Andrew Livernois explained that because the library building sits on land owned by the town, but was built and donated a benefactor, namely Benjamin M. Smith, if it no longer serves as a library, the town will be left a building bound by the law governing charitable trusts, which is administered by the New Hampshire Department of Justice.
In particular, the library would become subject to a section of the law, known as "cy pres," from the French meaning "as close as possible." The doctrine of "cy pres" provides that "if a particular charitable purpose becomes impossible, impracticable, illegal, obsolete, ineffective or prejudicial to the public interest to achieve," the court, at the petition of an interested party, may direct "that the trust property be applied or distributed, in whole or in part, to a charitable purpose which is useful to the community and which fulfills as nearly as possible the general charitable intent of the original donor."
In other words, Livernois said that if the town chose to put the building to another public purpose, it could negotiate an arrangement with the Division of Charitable Trusts and file a "cy pres" petition with the probate court legitimizing the changed use of the building. However, if the town chooses to sell the property to a private party, it would be required to compensate the Meredith Public Library with the proceeds from the transaction to fulfill the charitable intent of the original benefactor.
Likewise, the library was awarded a $70,000 grant by the Land and Community Heritage Program to replace the copper gutters on the building. Livernois said that if the building were sold to private party, the town would likely be required to refund the grant. He said that the easiest solution would be for the town to retain ownership of the building and put it to another public use. Otherwise, the legal issues arising from a private sale of the building would have to be resolved.
"We would like to be partners in this process," Heyduk told the selectmen. She said that if the trustees vote to build a new library, "we know we have to raise a lot of money and we are committed to raising as much money as possible.." She said that the trustees "value your input on the whole process" and look forward "to how we can get this done together."
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