The Final Chapter for Worcester Public Libraries: 193-year-old institution being razed

Wondering what the future could hold for city libraries and the books that line their walls? Find out with author BJ Hill in the Sun’s serial glimpse into the fantastic (and mostly fictional) possibilities of a not-so distant tomorrow.

WORCESTER, July 19, 2052 — Scores of people gathered on the Worcester Common throughout the day Friday to witness the demolition of the Worcester Public Library Main Branch. Aside from the college campus depositories, the building, built in 1964, was the last standing public library in the city and the largest library in Central Massachusetts. The teardown is part of Beacon Hill’s cost-cutting plan to close and consolidate libraries across the Commonwealth.

Sun Serials | Ray Mariano | Free to Read

Begun in 2040, the “10-year plan” aggregates local libraries’ physical materials into four regional centers: Whately, Worcester, Waltham and Wellfleet. Samples of books, including works of local history and genealogy, have been reviewed, categorized and transferred to the Region C Information Distribution Center, formerly the Greendale Mall. Relocation and storage fees are being paid for by Amazon.com, which, in 2041, initiated its ambitious plan to purchase every copy of every known paper-based volume in existence.

Of the old C/W MARS regional consortium, which at one time included more than 149 libraries in Central and Western Mass., only eight buildings remain open to the public: Pittsfield, Leominster, Leicester, West Brookfield, Shrewsbury, Wales, Williamstown and Lenox. All eight are set to close within the next 12 months.

“I understand that it’s sad to see the old libraries go, but we need to start thinking about space in Worcester,” said state Sen. Edward Rodrigues, who voted for the plan. “This move eliminates on building upkeep costs, saves on librarian salaries and benefits, and all but cuts out book purchases. We’ve outsourced all of that — almost for free — and now we can put that prime CitySquare land back on the tax rolls for a new tenant.

In fact, proponents say CitySquare, the sprawling downtown development project, will finally be completed in the next few years.

More What if … Worcester: Gardens and gargoyles: Dilapidated churches grow into urban farms

Editorial: Safer, saner streets in Worcester

Streets that are as safe as they can be for drivers and pedestrians is an obvious and important goal for any community.

Not so obvious is how best to achieve this.

Reducing the citywide speed limit to 25 miles per hour — a measure the City Council mulled last week — is one way to proceed. But we question whether that would be a truly effective route toward better safety.

The idea is allowable under the broad Municipal Modernization Act, enacted last year. The legislation allows cities and towns in Massachusetts to establish a 25 mph speed limit on roads that are not state highways and that lie within thickly settled or business districts.

Municipalities may also, if they choose, designate “safety zones” on such roads, with a posted speed limit of 20 miles per hour.

At the suggestion of Councilor-at-large Kathleen M. Toomey, chairperson of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, the council at its July 18 meeting asked the city administration to study lowering the citywide speed limit. The idea has already been adopted by Boston and several other municipalities. Springfield jumped on the 25-mph bandwagon last week.

On Beacon Hill: Signed, sealed and delivered

Recap and analysis of the week in local, state and federal government
from State House News Service and Sun research.

BOSTON — A budget, a pot bill and a shuffle of House leadership. Teary goodbyes, promotions and demotions. Take a deep breath, it’s finally the weekend.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo opened the floodgates early last week when he announced he had chosen a successor to Brian Dempsey as Ways and Means chairman, though not necessarily a successor to DeLeo’s long-held speakership.

The call to the bullpen went to state Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez, a Jamaica Plain Democrat and the first Latino to hold the powerful position in the House. In time, and if history serves, Sánchez could one day become a contender for the throne, but for now he’s meeting staff and worrying about how to handle Gov. Charlie Baker’s budget vetoes — $320 million, to be exact.

Baker signed a $39.4 billion spending bill for fiscal 2018, striking $42 million in local earmarks and revising revenue projections downward by $749 million, below the mark  — 1.4 percent — legislators had agreed would be sufficient in light of sluggish growth over the past year.

Antonio Caban / State House News Service

Gov. Charlie Baker

Perhaps most significantly, Baker returned a $200 million assessment on employers — his idea in the first place — with a summer reading assignment for lawmakers. The governor said he wanted the assessment, which many prefer to call a tax, packaged with reforms to MassHealth eligibility that were laid aside by legislative budget negotiators. And he wants it in the next 60 days.

How to proceed now will likely be decided by a triumvirate of DeLeo, Sanchez and Rep. Peter Kocot, D-Northampton, and they’ve scheduled hearings on the issues this week.

House members arrived at the State House Monday prepared to ratify Sánchez’s appointment to lead the budget-writing committee, and most seemed supportive of the selection. But Sánchez’s elevation meant a line of dominoes would fall behind him, and for at least one representative, the news wasn’t good.

Kocot, the gentle giant from Western Mass., took over the Health Care Financing Committee from Sánchez and will work together with the new budget chief to respond to Baker’s budget amendment on MassHealth.

Caught in the dust cloud of rotating chairpersons and newly minted vice-chairpersons, Rep. Russell Holmes, D-Mattapan, the immediate past chairman of the Black and Latino Caucus and vice-chairperson of the Housing Committee, found himself without his post in leadership.

Holmes had the temerity to suggest that with Dempsey gone, more liberal factions of the House should have a conversation about who the heir-apparent to DeLeo should be, and even prepare for a speakership fight in 2019.

That apparently did not sit well in the speaker’s office, and few were buying DeLeo’s insistence that Holmes’s demotion had nothing to do with his comments, but rather teamwork and chemistry.

Rather than quiet Holmes, the speaker’s punitive action only seemed to embolden the legislator as the week wore on. “If they believe that, then call me because I have a bridge in Brooklyn that I want to sell them,” Holmes said, incredulous about DeLeo’s explanation.

While representatives contemplated their place in the new House depth chart, the six House and Senate negotiators working on a pot law compromise retreated to the private confines of the Members Lounge for the last time to sign a deal that will raise the tax on retail marijuana to 20 percent and create a new structure for regulation and local control over pot stores.

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • Legal marijuana law awaits Baker signature
  • Chang-Diaz and Forry on pot, McGovern on #NoKidHungry, Healey on DACA
  • New Ways and Means chairperson pledges ‘thoughtful’ approach to MassHealth
  • Watch: DeLeo and Sánchez on historic chairmanship
  • Final tally: Tax revenues leave $431 million hole in fiscal 2017

Worcester Weekly: Helping refugees, Canal District veggies + more, July 23-29

The most fun you’ll have with a calendar of events all week. And you just might learn something, too.

Road trip!

Sunday, July 23 — 2017 DockDogs Day, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Klem’s, 117 W. Main St., Spencer  Tommy used to work on the docks. Guess you could say, he’s been down on his luck — especially since the union went on strike. And without Tommy — or Bon Jovi — around the docks, well, they’ve gone to the dogs. It’s tough.

Inbox [July 23-29]: News and notes from Ascentria, Veterans Inc., Boys & Girls Club of Worcester, South Bay Community Services and Signature Chefs Auction

Have news you or your group would like to share? Let us know by emailing it to info@worcester.ma. Be sure to include a link to the full release on your site or Facebook page so we can include it and send Sun members your way.

Ascentria Care Alliance acquires skilled care facility

Worcester-based Ascentria Care Alliance, one of the largest human-services organizations in New England, has acquired the Laurel Ridge Rehabilitation and Skilled Care Center in Jamaica Plain.

Ascentria administers a broad range of residential and community-based programs to meet the spectrum of needs of older adults and their families. Laurel Ridge complements those offerings as a 120-bed rehabilitation and skilled care center.