Supporters face protesters at celebratory event for new Greenfield Public Library

  • A mock-up of the new Greenfield Public Library was unveiled at a celebratory event on Thursday. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Protesters showed up at an event celebrating a new Greenfield Public Library on Thursday morning. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Richard and Roxann Wedegartner at the unveiling of the proposed image of a new Greenfield Public Library on Thursday. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • A mock-up of the new Greenfield Public Library was unveiled at a celebratory event on Thursday. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Except for the protesters, the atmosphere was festive Thursday during the unveiling of a sign showing what the new Greenfield Public Library might look like. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • A group of protesters who are unhappy with the spending on the new Greenfield Public Library and fire station attended the unveiling of a mock-up of the new library on Thursday. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Mayor Roxann Wedegartner speaks during the unveiling of how the new Greenfield Public Library might look on Thursday. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 7/22/2021 6:43:11 PM

GREENFIELD — Despite the presence of about a dozen protesters Thursday morning, supporters of the new Greenfield Public Library celebrated the unveiling of a sign displaying a proposed image of the building on Main Street.

“It makes me so happy to see you all out here today, and to have such a beautiful day to have this momentous event,” said Jeanne Canteen, president of the Greenfield Public Library Foundation. “It’s just so exciting.”

In 2019 — seven years after the vision for a new library was first discussed — Greenfield voters approved building a new library with a 61% positive vote. The $19.5 million appropriation accounts for construction costs as well the cost of the architect, project manager, furniture and fixtures, according to Library Building Committee Co-Chair Ed Berlin.

In addition to a $9.4 million grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, the Greenfield Public Library Foundation has said it will contribute about $2 million, reducing the city’s cost to about $8.1 million.

Canteen reported Thursday morning that the foundation had raised $1.875 million in cash and pledges from more than 400 donors.

“There are so many people here who have worked on this project for so many years,” she said, recognizing and thanking members of the Library Building Committee, the foundation, the library’s board of trustees, city councilors and the mayor, who were present.

She introduced Doris Cowdrey, chair of the trustees, who recalled the early stages of discussing the potential for a new library as many as 12 years ago.

“To get to this point has been such a community effort,” Cowdrey said. “It’s been a pleasure for me to be part of that.”

Other speakers at the ceremony, including Berlin, called it a “labor of love.”

“What we’re going to end up with is a library that was really built by our community for our community,” Berlin said. “I also want to thank the over 1,400 people who signed our petition while we were still doing the politics to get this project approved, and I want to thank the 61% of the voters in Greenfield who voted to support this project.”

He thanked Mayor Roxann Wedegartner as well for her support in helping the process get to this point.

“This is letting us all know that this dream — this dream of many people in Greenfield — is going to be realized, regardless of what others may think, say or do,” Wedegartner said.

She acknowledged the protesters who stood behind her, some who shouted “lies” as she spoke, or held signs that read “bait and switch” and “fraud.”

“Because we live in the country we live in, because we live in the city we live in, everybody has a right to disagree,” she said. “I don’t know what the motivation is. Nobody lied. No one.”

Dawn Morin, who organized the group of protesters at the event Thursday morning, disagreed, arguing that if voters had known a “yes” vote for a new library was tied to the construction of a temporary fire station followed by a new permanent fire station, they may have voted differently.

“Do you think the voters would have voted for the library if they knew we were going to be putting up a $2 million temporary fire station and then need almost double [what the city initially asked for] for the fire station?” she asked.

City Council approved $10 million for the new fire station project last year, but soon realized it would need more. The project is expected to cost $17.3 million, which includes $1.9 million for the temporary station in the Hope Street parking lot to be built. In December 2020, the City Council approved the mayor’s request for an additional $6 million for the project. At the time, Wedegartner said she planned to use grants and other funding to cover the balance.

Morin said the city doesn’t actually have a cost yet, given that the purchase of the former open-air market property on Main Street near Coombs Avenue — the planned site of a permanent station — hasn’t gone through yet.

“That could still fall through,” she said. “What if it turns out like Riddell Street, and it’s all contaminated and ... the city decides it’s too much of an investment? Then, we’re back to square one, and where’s our Fire Department? It’s in those sheds.”

Morin said she doesn’t believe the city has its priorities in order, noting issues having to do with lack of access to public toilets that were recently brought into the limelight.

“It’s insulting that these people, who can donate thousands of dollars, are talking about their lavish library, when there’s people down at Energy Park laying on the stairs, who don’t have any place to go to the bathroom,” Morin said.

It isn’t that she’s against the library, Morin clarified. In fact, living so close it, she is a regular visitor to it both with her son and grandson.

“I could run the Mother Goose program for you, I know it so well,” she said. “I love the library, and I love all its programs. … They’ve been doing a wonderful job with the building they had.”

Ultimately, it’s the path the city took to get to a new library, the size of it and its cost that upsets her.

Construction of the temporary fire station on Hope Street remains on track for the department to move into by mid- to late August. At that point, the current station will be razed, making way for construction of the new library.

Berlin told the crowd he expects a formal groundbreaking ceremony in late August, and if all goes well, a ribbon cutting before the end of 2022.

“Despite COVID, despite the naysayers … we are going to do it,” he said. “We are going to build a 21st-century, energy-efficient library, within budget. … Imagine, getting a brand new, 21st-century library at $19.5 million for $8 million.”

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the number of donors to the foundation’s campaign. According to the foundation president, more than 400 donors have made cash and pledge contributions.

Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne.




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