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Upgrades to current Greenfield library could cost as much as new one

  • Greenfield Public Library on Main Street. STAFF FILE PHOTO

  • Edward Berlin STAFF FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 8/7/2019 2:30:19 AM

GREENFIELD — Greenfield Public Library trustee Edward Berlin says it should be obvious that the city “can no longer do nothing about the library.”

That’s because the project manager for a proposed new library said it’s will cost about $8 million to bring the current building up to code. That figure is based on a recent report by the Massachusetts Office on Disability that lists numerous updates that would need to be done involving electrical, plumbing and more.

“Greenfield has to do something — one way or the other,” said Berlin, leader of the grassroots campaign for a new library. “If voters don’t approve a new library in November so that we can get the $9.4 million grant from the state to build it, taxpayers are going to have to pay to bring the current building up to code. In doing so, space will be lost — they’ll have a smaller library for the same cost of a new one.”

Project Manager Daniel Pallotta said the current library, built in the late 1700s, will have to bring everything — from accessible bathrooms to entryways to lighting — up to code.

“Once the city starts bringing the library up to code according to ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) standards, other state codes will kick in, and those will need to be done,” Pallotta. “That’s when the city is going to have to figure out what to do and how to pay for it.

“We’re not making up these numbers,” Pallotta continued. “When you look at everything that will need to be done, it adds up.”

Library trustees requested the Massachusetts Office on Disability conduct its own site visit and assessment, and on June 19, Massachusetts Office on Disability Assistant Director Jeffrey Dougan and Access Specialist Jakira Rogers met with trustees and library Director Ellen Boyer, as well as Greenfield Commission on Disability Chairwoman Lynne Kelley, and spent more than two hours speaking with them, taking a tour and assessing the building for accessibility.

Architect Phil O’Brien, who has been working with trustees on designs for a new library, said the ADA, which is federal legislation, would require the “absolute minimum” the city might need to allow access, but any work done for ADA requirements would trigger state building code requirements, and that’s where it starts to get expensive.

It has been estimated that the new library would cost about $19.5 million. Berlin said minus the $9.4 million grant from the state, which will have to be given back to the state in November if voters reject a new library, as well as $2 million in pledges the library plans to raise — it has already raised approximately $800,000 — it would cost taxpayers about $8.1 million for a new library that would have almost double the space of the current one.

Berlin said the reason renovations to bring the current building up to code would cost so much is because outside, for instance, the library would have to provide more accessible parking — there are currently two spaces in the parking lot between the library and the post office.

“There aren’t any spaces in the employee parking lot behind the building,” he said. “And anyone parking in the ones in the Main Street parking lot would have to cross in front of the fire station to get to the library.”

But that’s not all, he said. There are a lot of cracks in the driveway and ramp leading to the back door of the library.

“Those would have to be repaired,” he said. “The railing at the ramp is not high enough, so that’s a safety hazard. Going along the ramp in a wheelchair is risky business. So, before you even get through the door in the back of the library, you’ve spent quite a bit to bring things up to code.”

Berlin said the back, which is the only entrance that is currently “somewhat” accessible, is not easy to enter, but once in, someone in a wheelchair or using a walker or pushing a stroller has to traverse a 3-foot-wide ramp, when the law requires it to be 4 feet wide.

“Halfway along the ramp is a restroom,” he said. “People have attempted to get in and can’t. I know one woman who plans her trips to the library to be no more than two hours, because she needs to get home to use her own bathroom.”

Berlin said if people in wheelchairs, pushing strollers or using walkers make it into the elevator and get upstairs, they can’t easily get into the children’s room because there is a step down, and they can’t make their way around the stacks of books, because the aisles are too narrow.

“What if there’s ever a fire?” he contemplated. “I don’t have an answer. I don’t know how they would escape.”

Berlin said he is concerned that the city will be sued at some point, if a new library isn’t built or the old library isn’t brought up to code. He said either way, it’s going to cost taxpayers.

“It’s now up to the voters,” Berlin said. “If they say ‘Yes,’ we’ll work as quickly as possible to build a new library. If they say ‘No,’ we’ll have to figure out what happens next.”

Pallotta said, “It will be a shame if the city votes ‘No’ on a new library and has to give back all that money.” He said that alone makes the project worth doing.

Residents will vote in the November mayoral election on whether to build a new library. Initially the City Council voted to hold a special election in July, but an objection by At-Large Councilor Isaac Mass led to a re-vote, which then led to the decision to hold the vote in November.

A former councilor and about 400 residents signed a petition within 30 days of the City Council’s vote to approve the library in March, which brought the council to its decision to hold a vote.

“We want everyone to be able to use our library, so we will have to do one of these things,” Berlin said. “Access for all. We can choose a smaller, up-to-code library, or we can choose a new one almost double the size of the one now and completely accessible. If we choose the smaller one, we’re choosing high maintenance costs, as well, something we wouldn’t have with a new one.”

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-9591, ext. 269 or

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