MERIDEN — The City Council tonight is scheduled to discuss the Library Building Committee’s request to pursue new bids for a “full build” renovation of the current library building that would include possible expansion.
The committee is also seeking the council’s approval to continue its engagement with TSKP Studio, the Hartford-based architectural firm that had been contracted to design the project.
The council’s meeting will be conducted remotely, through video conference starting at 6:30 p.m.
The new requests come before the council about a year-and-a-half after its July 2019 vote to adopt a $7.8 million plan to renovate the more than 40-year-old library building without expanding it.
Members of the library’s Board of Trustees at the time had sought to increase the 45,000-square-foot building by another 9,000 feet. Library officials had estimated a $9.3 million price tag to expand and renovate the building.
Library officials had sought to expand the building’s children’s and teen sections and other areas for programming and community meeting space.
The State Bond Commission last summer approved a $1 million grant to offset the project costs.
Library officials now seek other funding sources to cover the additional costs of expansion, including fundraising by the non-profit Friends of the Meriden Public Library and other grants. Officials have not requested additional funding from the city.
City Councilor Michael Rohde is co-vice chairman of the Library Building Committee. Rohde favors expanding the library building.
“To me, it’s a 25 or 30 year decision we are making. We’ve been discussing renovation of the library for at least 15 years. It’s way overdue…,” said Rohde, a Democrat. “If we’re going to do it, let’s do it right. Let’s have something that’s going to hold up, so we’re not saying five or 10 years from now that it’s way too small.”
Fellow City Councilor Dan Brunet opposes expansion.
“I think everything could be rebuilt on the footprint that exists,” said Brunet, a Republican. “I won’t be in favor of expansion going forward. It took a lot of work on the council leadership to even get the $7.8 million approved.”
In the time that’s lapsed since the last council vote, the library has welcomed a new director in Clevell Roseboro II. Despite the formation of the Library Building Committee, the project itself has been set back due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Frank Ridley, who serves as president of the Friends of The Meriden Public Library, said the group has already raised $100,000 for the project. Because of the pandemic, the group’s fundraising efforts had been carried out remotely, through mailings and other solicitations.
“Once the pandemic eases off, we hope to do in-person fundraising,” Ridley said. Multi-faceted resource
Thomas Welsh, chairman of the Library Building Committee, explained the purpose of the requests is to receive guidance from the council as to whether or not it is “strictly constrained” to the $7.8 million project cost as previously approved.
Library officials are also seeking the council’s assurance that seeking additional grant funding for the project will not reduce the city’s previously authorized financial exposure.
“Most grant authorities will not provide grants whose only purpose is to reduce the amount of money the city has to spend,” Welsh said.
The committee seeks reengaging with TSKP Studio, the architecture firm, to finalize previous design concepts into construction documents.
Welsh and other supporters of the project described the evolution of a municipal library from a space where books are stored and loaned to a more multi-faceted community resource.
“The function of a library is to provide access to books and information of all different kinds,” Welsh said. “It’s also to provide a critical community resource for information purposes, access to technology, as well as programs, particularly for youth.”
Joan Edgerly, longtime president of the library’s Board of Trustees, described renovation without expansion as “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” Edgerly noted through previous community surveys, members of the public expressed support for larger children’s areas and meeting spaces in the library.
“One of the reasons we need more space is because of technology,” she said.
“Unfortunately, many people believe that libraries aren’t as necessary now or used as much as they used to be,” Edgerly said. “That’s just not true.”