Town to discuss plans for new library Thursday

  • FILE PHOTO  FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 12/9/2018 3:01:37 PM

GREENFIELD — Conversation about the city helping pay for a new library will continue tonight in the Greenfield High School auditorium.

The City Council will be asked at its Dec. 19 meeting six days whether taxpayers should spend $10.1 million toward the project. The total projected price tag is $20.5, with the remaining money coming from a state grant and private donations.

Here’s what to expect at the meeting:

What’s the cost? 

In July, the Greenfield Library’s Board of Trustees announced it received a $9.4 million grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners — if the city agreed to pay for the rest within six months of the announcement. 

Mayor William Martin decided to seek from the City Council borrowing authority for $19.5 million, assuming fundraising and other efforts would cover the rest of the $20.5 million. 

So, the City Council, based on municipal financing laws, will be asked to borrow through the bond market $19.5 million, which taxpayers and the state grant would pay back over several years, like a mortgage. 

There are ways for the project to be built more cheaply, according to Library Building Committee Chairman Ed Berlin. 

The builder of the proposed 26,800-square-foot library — down from the original plan of 32,000 square feet — will be the same one that built the John Zon Community Center, which came in under budget. 

The construction costs also include the price to make it a premium-certified energy efficient building. While the goal remains to make it a net-zero-energy building, meaning it produces as much energy as it uses, it doesn’t have to be done at the highest of standards, Berlin said. This could save some money, if needed. 

Why a new library?

The current library is not fully up to code, and is not completely accessible. Berlin said if the city was to keep the building and maintain the library, it would have to spend $7.9 million to get it up to code and ADA compliance, according to the library board’s project manager and architect.

The library also does not have the most updated technology and capabilities to serve today and tomorrow’s generations, advocates have said. The advocates, who have been packing City Council meetings in their matching green T-shirts for months, have said that those updates are vital to the health of Greenfield to sufficiently serve its future residents.   

What about the current library? 

The library, which was designed by early Colonial architect Asher Benjamin, is registered with the Greenfield Historical Commission, so no major structural changes can be done to it. Instead, an updated library is most attainable by building a new one, which would go next door where today’s fire station sits. Berlin said there’s an interested buyer in town, who runs a business and would move offices into the library. If the library were bought from the city, it would create additional revenue that could be used to offset the library price tag, Berlin suggested. 

Features of a new, larger library would include improved handicap accessibility, more meeting spaces for the public, individual study areas and spacious and unique areas for children and teenagers. The current library has limited space for books and storage, public function space is very limited and accessibility is difficult.

Cowdrey said about 500 people visit the library each day.

What does this mean for the fire station?

If the new library were built, the fire station would have to move.

It’s the plan and desire of the Greenfield Fire Department to move to a new, more modern and larger building, but there have been several obstacles to plans that have been explored somewhat concurrently with the library’s plans. 

There is a rough proposal to move the new fire station to city-owned property between Riddell and Beacon streets. This is also the space skate park proponents had been eyeing. There’s a small chance the skate park could fit into the space next to the potential new fire station. 

Construction of the new library could begin while the town continues to work out of the old fire station, but Berlin said it would have to move before the library opened.  

What if the answer is “yes’? 

The city’s residents may begin “paying” for the library by 2024, based on loan payback plans by ex-Finance Director Lane Kelly, who came back to serve Greenfield on a pro-bono basis this fall. The borrowing may last for 25 years, but yearly payments would shrink over time. 

What if we say “no”? 

There are a few scenarios that could play out in the short-term, but a “no” that would mean the plans for a new library are dead. Without a positive vote from the City Council, the library board cannot use the grant.

In the short-term though, some political considerations come first. 

At tonight’s meeting, City Council meeting, a “yes” or “no” vote could be challenged for reconsideration the next day and brought up at a future council meeting. Given the timeline the library board is working with, it could make it difficult to give the state an answer by its deadline. 

The council could also filibuster the library by agreeing to table the motion to approve the borrowing, kicking it to another meeting. 

An additional wrench, Precinct 2 Councilor John Lobik will be resigning as of Jan. 1. This could be his last big vote. After he steps aside, City Council President Karen “Rudy” Renaud will have the chance to appoint a person to take over Lobik’s seat for its remaining one year. Renaud would have enough progressive votes on the council to further swing the city’s legislative body. This appointed councilor, if the vote was pushed off to January, could become a swing vote.  

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:

jsolomon@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 264




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