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Library supporters: Previous estimate for code upgrade too low

  • A patron checks out audio books at the Greenfield Public Library. STAFF FILE PHOTO

  • Greenfield Public Library STAFF FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 8/7/2019 9:58:43 PM

GREENFIELD — Proponents of a new library say those who are using a number from a 2018 report on what it would cost to make it accessible should stop because that only tells part of the story.

“The town’s ADA Self-Evaluation and Transition Plan says $64,100 would take care of some of the accessibility problems at the library, bringing them up to minimum ADA standards,” said Greenfield Public Library trustee Edward Berlin. “But the report also says that amount doesn’t include labor costs on any of the projects, so labor would surely push that amount up over $100,000, triggering the need to bring the building up to state building codes.”

City Council approved construction of a new library in March. However, now it will be up to voters since the project will be on the November general election ballot following the successful submission of a citizen’s petition.

Berlin said some city councilors, including Precinct 3 City Councilor and mayoral candidate Brickett Allis, have said the city doesn’t need a new library because it would cost taxpayers less to bring the current building up to code.

“That’s just not true,” he said.

Berlin said statements like that are misleading, as bringing the building up to code per the ADA would then trigger state code violations, which would cause costs to rise dramatically — the project manager for a new library has said that, according to a site visit and analysis by the Massachusetts Office on Disability, it would cost the town almost as much to bring the old building up to code as it would to build a new library.

According to the city’s transition plan, which was paid for with a $40,000 grant from the state Office on Disability, the $64,100 — plus whatever labor costs ended up being — would cover the cost of rearranging parking ($8,500), widening ramps, replacing signs and improving seating ($15,400), making the downstairs bathroom accessible ($25,000) and installing a new fire alarm system ($15,000), give or take a couple hundred dollars.

Allis said the transition plan was done to evaluate the accessibility needs of many buildings, including the library, parks and public areas throughout the city.

“In the plan’s executive summary, it states, ‘The evaluations were used to create a transition plan that outlined all the steps necessary to make city-owned areas ADA compliant,’” Allis said in a email on Wednesday. “To my knowledge, the council has not been provided any credible information beyond this comprehensive transition plan identifying ‘all the steps necessary to make city-owned areas ADA compliant.’”

Allis said it was only after he and other councilors questioned the financial impact of the project that they heard about the “astronomical costs” of ADA compliance.

“Costs that are speculative based on assumptions made by individuals with financial interests in building the new library, for me, this is troubling,” he said. “Further, if there is other credible information on the subject of library ADA compliance, it has not yet been made available to myself or the council through our council clerk.”

Allis said if the transition plan that outlines, in detail, the corrective action to make the library fully accessible for an estimated cost of $64,100 is way off base, and it’s going to cost much more, the city should immediately move to be reimbursed for the cost of the study and any staff time that was used for the study.

“I continue to be open-minded on the library project in hopes that I will be provided not speculative, but a concrete financial analysis of the long-term fiscal impacts on the city’s budget and the taxpayers of Greenfield,” Allis said. “It is my hope that all voters in Greenfield are furnished factually correct financial information surrounding the library project from sources that do not stand to gain financially from the outcome.”

Allis mentioned the $64,100 in a February meeting about the library, at which time he said it would get the library up to “reasonable code,” but Berlin and others said that reasonable code isn’t good enough. Berlin said it would cost $64,100 plus labor costs just to get the parking lot, walkway and back entrance up to code.

Berlin said if voters approve a new library in November, the city will get $9.4 million from the state and another $2 million in pledges, leaving the taxpayers to pay about $8.1 million of the $19.5 million project.

“If Dan Pallotta (the project manager) and the Massachusetts Office on Disability are correct, it will cost about $8 million for everything that needs to be is brought up to code,” Berlin said. “We want to make our library accessible for everyone. It has to be.”

People have complained that the ramp just inside the back door to the building is not wide enough and that they cannot maneuver their way into the bathroom located halfway up that ramp. They have also complained they either can’t or have a difficult time getting into the children’s room, where the second bathroom is located, because there’s a step that has to be maneuvered. Others have complained that the elevator is too small, especially if you’re in a wheelchair.

Berlin said it is not just about people in wheelchairs, though, but parents pushing strollers, people using walkers and others who have mobility issues. There have also been complaints about the aisles between book stacks being too narrow, large cracks in the outside ramp and restrooms being locked so people can’t get into the downstairs bathroom unless they make their way upstairs first for the key.

Berlin said he worries about what would happen if there were ever a fire in the building. He said that could turn more costly than a renovation or new building, fearing the city could eventually find itself in litigation.

“How would those in wheelchairs or with little mobility get out?” he contemplated.

The report by Berkshire Regional Planning Commission points out that the building was constructed well before the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 — the late 1700s — so it isn’t surprising that many upgrades need to be done. The city had last updated its transition plan 14 years before the latest update.

Berlin said there has been talk since the 1990s about the need to build a new library — or completely renovate the current one — and attempts have been defeated.

“There’s just going to come a time when we can’t wait any longer,” Berlin said. “I believe we’re there. We have to do something before someone gets hurt.”

According to the American Community Survey for the years 2012 through 2016, 15.5 percent of all Greenfield residents have a disability, which includes hearing, vision, cognitive and ambulatory.

According to the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, the plan is meant to “guide” Greenfield in the implementation of its ADA compliance goals for about five years or until 2023. What it says in the most recent report should be done to the library, it recommends should be done by next year or the year after.

The city’s Community and Economic Development Director MJ Adams, who is the city’s lead on the latest transition plan update, is away this week and could not be reached for comment.

Reach Anita Fritz at
413-772-0261, ext. 269

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