MERIDEN — Efforts to renovate the Meriden Public Library’s nearly 50-year-old building on Miller Street received a boost this week.
That boost began on Monday night, when the Meriden American Rescue Plan Steering Committee voted unanimously to recommend the library’s application for use of between $1.665 million to $1.9 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to replace the library’s aging heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system.
The final funding amount, which still needs to be voted on by the City Council, will be based on which library improvement project the council ultimately backs.
On Tuesday night, the council’s finance committee, by a 3 to 2 margin, voted to recommend the council as a whole support funding the expansion project.
Finance committee Chairwoman Yvette Cortez, Deputy Mayor Michael Cardona and Councilor Nicole Tomassetti, voted in favor of expansion. Councilors Dan Brunet and Michael Carabetta voted against expansion, saying they instead supported a base renovation.
Two years ago, the council had approved the library’s plan to renovate the 45,000-square-foot building without expanding. The library building committee on Tuesday night presented plans for expanding and renovating the library to finance committee members during a remote videoconferenced meeting. The library’s architect during that presentation also showed finance committee members plans for a base renovation without expansion.
According to funding figures shared Tuesday night, the total project cost for renovating the library would be just under $10.25 million. The net cost of the project to the city would be lowered to around $7.43 million, after a $1 million state library grant, $150,000 in funds raised by the Friends of the Meriden Public Library, and the potential $1.665 million in ARP funds are factored in. The cost of that project has increased since the council last voted to authorize funding for it. The council in 2019 authorized $6.8 million in bond funding for the renovation and would need to authorize at least $634,076 more, based on figures shared with the finance committee.
Meanwhile, the Library Building Committee and the architect who drafted the renovation and expansion plans, have put forth the expansion proposal, which would increase the building’s existing space: adding more than 3,200 square feet in public space throughout the building and nearly doubling the building’s meeting room space. Currently the building has 2,570 square feet in meeting area space.
The plans would increase that space to 4,994 square feet.
The total cost of renovation and expansion would be just over $13 million. After grants, private fund raising, and the $1.9 million in ARP funds, the city’s expense would be close to $9.97 million. After deducting the $6.8 million the council previously committed toward the project, the council would need to authorize committing another $3.167 million to fully fund that project. ‘Once in a generation’
Prior to the finance committee and the ARP committee’s votes, Thomas Welsh, who chairs the Library Building Committee, described a tight timeline: the committee must have a construction contract in place by January 2022 or risk losing the $1 million State Library Grant.
Welsh also noted the cost of the project had increased over original estimates because of the pandemic’s impact on the supply chain, including construction. The costs also include $200,000 in code compliance to cover the installation of a new sprinkler system, which wasn’t required when the library was originally constructed, Welsh explained.
Welsh said the library not only serves the entire community of Meriden, but is located downtown, an area with a large concentration of low income residents.
“Those would be the folks most impacted if we are not able to do this renovation process,” Welsh said, describing the proposal as “a once in a generation project.”
Carabetta said he does see the need for a renovation. However, he was against expanding the library.
Brunet agreed, saying it’s not true that there is no additional library and meeting space available. He said expanding the library would come with additional overhead, including maintenance, heating and electrical costs.
Tomassetti and Cardona disagreed.
“I think it would be a mistake to not develop the building to its fullest extent,” Tomassetti said.
“I think the space could really benefit the public,” Cardona said, adding he believes the city needs more meeting space.
Mayor Kevin Scarpati, who voted in favor of allocating ARP funding during the steering committee’s deliberations, reiterated the sentiment that the proposal is “a once in a generation project.” He urged council members to consider the library’s future use.
“... I urge the council to consider what this means to not just library users today, but students, schools, businesses, nonprofits and hopefully us who will take advantage of the library in the future,” Scarpati said.