MERIDEN — With City Councilor Dan Brunet casting the lone “nay” vote Tuesday night, the City Council approved the Library Building Committee’s request to pursue grants and other additional funds in its quest to renovate the existing library building.
The meeting was convened remotely via video conference.
The council voted unanimously to approve a second library-related motion allowing the Library Building Committee to continue its engagement with the architects overseeing the renovation designs.
City Councilor Michael Rohde, who also serves as co-vice chair of the Library Building Committee, explained the committee sought council guidance regarding funding because the committee itself does not have the authority to enter into contracts, nor does it have the authority to make spending decisions.
Rohde explained the first thing the Library Building Committee would look at is an update on cost estimates for both the renovation, which the council had already approved, and the renovation and expansion, which the committee seeks.
“It’s been 18 months, COVID hit, we’ve got a new library director, a building committee and five new council members that weren’t there before,” Rohde said, adding there may be opportunities for private fundraising and grants. The Friends of the Meriden Public Library, the non-profit organization affiliated with the library, has already raised $100,000 toward the project.
Rohde said those potential grants and other fundraising would be additional monies toward the project and not be used to reduce the amount the city has already committed toward the project.
“We wanted to make sure that if we were successful in getting grants and private fundraising that wouldn’t just be taken off what the city has already agreed to,” Rohde said.
The council 18 months ago voted to adopt a $7.8 million plan to renovate the library’s more than 40-year-old, 45,000-square-foot building without any additions. A plan to add a 9,000-square-foot addition at the time of that vote would have raised the price tag to $9.3 million, according to previous estimates.
The city has secured a $1 million state grant, so $6.8 million in city funds are committed toward the project.
Rohde explained the committee would not be seeking additional city funding for the project.
No other councilors, besides Rohde or Brunet, spoke for or against the building committee’s requests.
One resident, Colleen Cyr, submitted written testimony, saying she supported the library resolutions. “Give the library a chance to raise money,” Cyr wrote.
During discussions, Brunet said he agreed “there should be nothing impeding anybody from raising additional funding” for the renovation. But he is not in favor of expanding. “The city doesn’t need any additional overhead,” Brunet said, explaining he believes expansion will lead to increased maintenance costs.
Library officials in requesting the expansion had sought to increase the existing building’s teen and children areas as well as community spaces used for programming.
“We have so many different organizations in this town that are supplying programs,” Brunet said, listing those offered by organizations like the Meriden YMCA, Girls Inc. and others as examples.
Brunet, like Rohde, also sits on the LIbrary Building Committee. He noted when the council had previously voted on the request that there were a few members at the time who had favored a partial renovation, the third option presented, at a cost of a little more than $5 million.
“The $7.8 million was a total renovation,” Brunet said, adding that amount is “much more impactful than” the lowest cost option.
“We had a couple of councilors who didn’t feel there was any renovation needed, which is absurd,” Brunet said.
“The library committee is packed with people who are library passionate,” he added.
Prior to the votes, Brunet’s remarks set off a brief exchange with Mayor Kevin Scarpati, who presided over the meeting.
“Councilor Brunet, I’m sure you speak for yourself when you say sitting members so pro library you’re not even part of the middle ground. Keep up that attitude, Councilor Brunet.”
“I went for $7.8 million from day one. That’s not middle ground? Seriously,” Brunet said in response.
Scarpati, with a half-smile, replied, “.. keep up the passion. Love the passion for the library.”