By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
MEREDITH — The Board of Trustees of the Meredith Public Library voted Tuesday to leave the Benjamin M. Smith Memorial Library building, where the institution has operated for the past 115 years, for a new home to be constructed at a location and at a time that remains to be determined.
Duncan McNeish said that although the board divided 5 to 2, the dissenters agreed that the library should move to a new location while preferring to defer a decision and announcement until a suitable property was found and acquired. He said that the vote carries the caveat that the trustees could rescind the decision in light of "unforeseen circumstances."
The vote followed nearly a decade of discussion among successive trustees about the future of the library overshadowed by the steady deterioration of its historic building and mounting pressures on its limited space.
McNeish said that the majority of the board favored a timely decision to assuage residents who, after a series of public forums on the future of the library, wondered "Are we staying or leaving?" At the same time, he said the decision affords the Board of Selectmen and the town plenty of time to decide what to do with the original library building.
"We're not leaving tomorrow," he said, adding that the process of raising funds, purchasing land and constructing a library could take three or four years.
In the meantime, the decision poses practical and legal issues for the town, which the trustees outlined for the selectmen earlier this week. First, as town manager Phil Warren, the Benjamin M. Smith Memorial Library is in need of some $750,000 worth of repairs in order to comply with building and fire codes.
Attorney Andrew Livernois, representing the trustees, explained to selectmen that because the library building sits on land owned by the town, but was built and donated by a benefactor, if it no longer serves as a library, the town will be left a building subject to 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 an original charitable purpose can no longer be fulfilled, an interested party may petition the court to pursue another 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, if the town chose to puts 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 chose 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 , Livernois reminded the selectmen, 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.
Furthermore, in 1985, the Benjamin M. Smith Memorial Library was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
McNeish emphasized that "the library trustees want to work collaboratively with the selectmen and the town to ensure a smooth transition."
The Meredith Public Library (Laconia Daily Sun file photo)
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