TOWNSEND -- The Hart Library building next to Town Hall has sat vacant for five years, ever since the new library building opened in 2009.

The historical building is not up to current building codes, not handicap accessible and may have asbestos.

Now selectmen are trying to decide the building's fate, as two separate attempts to put out a Request for Proposals to have a buyer purchase and update the library have failed.

"Now we're at the point where it's just not feasible to have that building. We can't afford it, the town can't afford it and there's no one stepping up to the plate who is giving money to have this building remain the way it is," said Laura Shifrin, a member of the Town Properties Committee.

In selectmen's meetings, various ideas for potential uses for the building have been tossed around, including turning it into office space for the North Middlesex Regional School District, creating a museum to preserve Townsend's past or converting the space into low-income or senior housing.

On June 3, selectmen instructed Town Administrator Andrew Sheehan to apply for grant funding to pay for a feasibility study, detailing exactly what it would take to restore the building.

The grant the town is pursuing is the Priority Development Fund grant, which provides up to $15,000 in funding to determine whether a building is a candidate for conversion into low-income housing.

"If we did turn it into affordable housing it would help on our subsidized housing inventory.


Every town has to have 10 percent of housing be affordable," said Town Properties Committee member Karen Chapman.

But even if that isn't a possibility for the building, having the study done may make others more likely to purchase the building, as they will know what work needs to be done on it, Chapman said.

Earlier this year, the Town Properties Committee presented selectmen with three options for the building -- sell it, tear it down or hope for a benefactor. With no benefactor in sights, selling the building was their recommended option.

But selectmen have been indecisive about what course to pursue.

"I'd have a hard time selling that land. It's really valuable to this location," Selectman Carolyn Smart said at the board's May 20 meeting.

On June 3, before the board authorized Sheehan to look into grant funding, Selectman Colin McNabb suggested moving forward with an attempt to sell.

"We started talking about this a long time ago and I'm not trying to rush the process, but we've had plenty of time to think of it. I really strongly feel that we need to look at selling the property," McNabb said.

Smart responded by saying that residents should have a better idea of their options before being presented with a decision to make at Town Meeting.

"The problem that I have is residents are being asked either to sell the property or keep it for town use, but they don't have an idea of the cost it's going to take to rehab the building," she said.

The future of the Hart Library is again a subject of discussion on the Board of Selectmen's June 17 meeting agenda.

Shifrin said she supported the choice to pursue grant funding.

"I definitely think that exploring all options prior to a final decision is absolutely the appropriate way to go. If there should be some funding that helps us and makes it easier to make the ultimate decision for the selectmen or for the town, that's the way to go," Shifrin said.

Chapman said that while there are other options, selectmen must make a decision to pursue them.

"There are some economic development grants for converting to mixed use or commercial use, but until someone comes up with a solid idea of what we're going to go with it's hard to say. I think it would make a good museum. It could be a lot of things, but it's what the town and selectmen think are best," Chapman said.

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