Council Votes to Sell East Branch Library, Will Become Part of St. James Church

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Charlie Breitrose

The East Branch Library could be sold after the Town Council approved soliciting bids on the site.

Charlie Breitrose

The East Branch Library could be sold after the Town Council approved soliciting bids on the site.

After nearly 100 years in Watertown, the East Branch Library building has been sold and could become a park in the short term and will become part of the St. James Armenian Church campus in the longterm. 

Tuesday night, the Town Council voted to sell the property at 481 Mt. Auburn Street to the church for $1.2 million. See some of the background on the sale here.

The decision was a bittersweet one for East End Town Councilor Angeline Kounelis, and others on the Council.

“I don’t want to see the East Branch Library let go. It is troubling to me,” Kounelis said. In the end, she decided to support the sale.

Jim McDermott, the attorney representing St. James, said that the church has been interested in the property since it closed in 2007. The St. James Parish Council agreed to some deed restrictions, including that it won’t be used for parking. He added that the church has some short and longterm plans, but the building will not be saved.

“It is just not economically viable to keep it,” McDermott said. “We will take it down, do some nice landscaping until we decide what to do with it. It is really a long term investment for us.”

Some possible ideas for the spot is a sanctuary or another building to be used by the church.

Councilors asked if the public has access to small, landscaped area. McDermott said the church is not opposed except that they do not want to be liable for anything that happens on the land for people not associated with the church. The Town may be able to have an insurance policy that includes the Church, said Town Attorney Mark Reich.

Council Vice President Vincent Piccirilli said he has heard people ask “why are you rushing to sell the East Branch Library.” He said the Council has tried to find other alternatives but none panned out.

“In 2007 the Watertown Community Foundation had a forum about what to do with the East Branch Library and there were a lot of good ideas,” Piccirilli said. “With the cost of renovating such a small building and the physical limits of the site it does not make sense to reuse the building. Not many groups would spend $1.4 million to reuse the building.”

Councilor Michael Dattoli said he hoped that the library, which was built in 1925, could be saved, especially with Watertown passing the Community Preservation Act. He noted that the building fell into disrepair.

“The Town, we failed this property,” Dattoli said. “We talked about the property for a long time but we did not maintain it over the years.”

When the proposal to seek bids to sell the library first came up, Dattoli made a motion to prevent the razing of the building but it was defeated.

Councilor Lisa Feltner said she is sad to see the Library go.

“I have memories attending both branch libraries with my son. I love libraries,” Feltner said. “But I am encouraged by the investment in Watertown. It is attractive that they have cash. We have some projects that fell through. There is a hole in the ground in Watertown Square.”

Councilor Aaron Dushku said when he first considered the sale of the library he was against it because generally he opposes selling Town property. Over time he changed his mind, partly because the money from the sale will help the Town pay to purchase a home on Winter Street near the Main Branch of the Library that will be torn down and the land will be used for the Community Path.

Not many residents showed up to speak about the proposal. Resident David Cain said he would like to see the building saved and used to house more publicly accessible computers because he said there can be a long wait for the ones at the Main Branch of the library.

Governor’s Councilor Marilyn Petitto Devaney said she only just heard about the proposal to sell the library and said there should be more time so that a community meeting could be held to discuss other options for saving the library.

“This was the Armenian Library,” Pettito Devaney said. “With all the development in this area why not give something back to the citizens?”

She asked for one of the Councilors to use their Charter Privilege to stop discussion of the sale at this meeting and push it to the next one so that people can work on alternatives.

This was not the only time Charter Privilege came up at the meeting. Kounelis said she considered using it because she felt she was prevented from sharing information about deed restrictions and other parts of the agreement with her constituents. Kounelis said she was told by the Town Attorney that the information was confidential because it was discussed under executive session. She noted that he discussed the terms at Tuesday’s meeting.

“The conditions of the purchase and sales agreement should be available before the Town Council meeting,” Kounelis said. “It suppressed my ability to share information with my constituents. I fault the administration. I do not fault St. James.”

In the end she did not use her Charter Privilege.

“That wouldn’t be fair to St. James,” she said.

The sale passed unanimously, and the Town and St. James officials will negotiate the final terms of sale.

3 thoughts on “Council Votes to Sell East Branch Library, Will Become Part of St. James Church

  1. “I don’t want to see the East Branch Library let go. It is troubling to me,” Kounelis said.

    It was a dilapidated old building even before it was closed. Hardly troubling to me. I’m sure that St James will do something worthwhile with the property.

  2. St. James was as concerned it would be used in a manner that was not in the best interest of the church. Even if they do nothing with the property, that threat has been removed.

  3. As a lifelong parishioner of St. James, this is good news for our parish and for our beloved Watertown. I want the best for both parties and think this will prove a good decision for both in the long run. That library was a beloved part of my younger years; sorry that the building will pass into eternity, but the memories will always remain for those of us who loved it.

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