RICHMOND — Park at the school. Stroll across the field and up the hill and walk into a new Town Hall and library.
Your feet will be on grass, not flooring, but it’s a creative chance to visualize the possibilities. Precise mowing and red-tagged stakes outline the shape of a new town building that would replace a cramped, rented library building and a decrepit Town Hall.
Richmond voters who take this walk will be on the knoll of land Richmond voters bought decades ago, taking advantage of its availability in case the town would need a new Town Hall. Someday. And now, someday has arrived.
In the mood of an open house, town officials held an open site visit on Saturday, with members of the Municipal Building Commission, Select Board and library trustees on hand to offer coffee, doughnuts and information.
In the parking lot, resident Peter Cohen’s carefully crafted model provided a more specific picture of office cubicles, a community room, an expanded library. The model includes tiny trees, benches and lawns, even a sheep.
From now until town meeting on May 19, Cohen’s miniature will be on display in various places.
Business will be entirely on the main floor, with a lower level (under the library) taking care of storage and all the mechanicals. But no elevator — eliminating one huge expense. And either standing inside the stakes on the hill or looking at the model, it is easy to see that this is not an extravagant structure: It’s meant to meet the town’s needs without frills. Skeptics may question whether there is a need. The answer may lie in making two other site visits. At Town Hall, the peeling paint is merely unattractive. Inside, the basement offices are musty, the restrooms unpleasant, the underlying septic system nonconforming and problematic, many offices inaccessible to the mobility challenged. An engineering firm’s report on “fixing” Town Hall to make it livable and conforming would cost more than $3 million. For decades, town officials have held the venerable structure together with Band-Aids, including the steel rods installed in the 1970s to keep the walls from falling down.
The library, through the creativity of librarians and the board of trustees, has served most of the community well. But the key is the phrase “most of the community.”
If you’re in a wheelchair, you cannot hunt for a book yourself, except on the shelf for the newest books. You cannot use the restroom, and no one is allowed to drink the water, because it hasn’t met the test for a municipal building. At special programs, a limited number of chairs are squeezed in between the stacks. The workroom is windowless and tight. But Librarian Kristin Smith makes it all work, including during the chills of winter and heat of summer. Still, Richmond can’t be proud of the fact that it’s the only town in Massachusetts that rents space for its library.
Stand on the grassy slope on State Road and enjoy the view of phragmites growing around a pond to the south in one of Richmond’s swamps, then lift your eyes to the incredible view of Lenox Mountain and its adjacent hills.
It’s easy to picture townspeople being able to gather in a leisurely way for the first time at a fairly central location, going to an exercise class, sitting on a bench with a book, attending an event.
It’s easy to imagine a bunch of kids flying out of the Richmond Consolidated School, up the path — will it be a boardwalk? — to the new library to study, read and wait for a parent to pick them up. It’s easy to see seniors making it a destination. It costs money, of course. That brings an automatic no from people who don’t want their taxes to increase, or those who believe the way we’ve always done it to be just fine.
But it’s not. And the money picture is quite clear: $3 million to keep the present Town Hall going, or more than $6 million to replace both the Town Hall and library.
So, what does that do to the tax bill? Well, for a house assessed at about $400,000, it’s less than $50 a quarter; for half of Richmond homeowners, it’s less than that.
It’s easy to get all mixed up in medians and averages, but the finance gurus in this town figure owners of our 746 houses can manage this, especially with our school paid for this year.
Town officials in the 1970s saw possibilities in this piece of land. It’s time to build on their vision of what someday might be needed. Someday is here.