MERIDEN — After the City Council failed to pass a $9.3 million expansion and renovation of the public library last month, some are still holding out hope the project could ultimately happen.
City officials and library supporters say it’s possible enough money could be raised through grants, donations, or state aid to cover the difference in cost between the expansion and the $7.8 million in renovations approved by the council.
“We’re not going to give up. It’s too important to us,” said Joan Edgerly, longtime president of the library’s Board of Trustees. Edgerly and other library supporters advocated for the expansion, which would have added 9,000 square feet to the 45,000-square-foot library.
The expansion, however, only received seven of the eight votes necessary for passage, leading the council to ultimately pass the $7.8 million renovation instead. Councilors who didn’t support the expansion said they felt the city couldn’t afford the $9.3 million project.
City Manager Tim Coon said he plans to seek out grants in the coming months, and the Friends of the Library, a nonprofit fundraising arm, will launch a capital campaign this fall to raise money for the upgrades. Members of the city’s state delegation have also submitted bonding requests for $1 million.
“The fight’s not over, and I commit to you that we, in the council, will take forward whatever resolution … to go after additional money before the shovel goes in the ground,” Council Majority Leader David Lowell told the Democratic Town Committee at a meeting last month.
Lowell was among the seven Democrats who supported the $9.3 million project when the council voted last month. He was joined by Brian Daniels, Cathy Battista, Bruce Fontanella, Sonya Jelks, Michael Cardona, and Miguel Castro. Three members of the minority caucus – Republican Dan Brunet and We the People councilors Walter Shamock and Joseph Carabetta III – preferred the $7.8 million renovation.
Brunet argued an expansion isn’t necessary and worried it would lead to an increase in annual staffing and overhead costs. He couldn’t be reached for comment this past week.
The city has asked the architect designing the renovations to allow for an expansion in case enough money is raised, Lowell and Coon said.
Coon said that even if enough money is raised, the expansion would require new council approval.
“Nothing is going to proceed without council approval,” Coon said. “Councilors may have objections to going back and asking for something again, but it’s going through council approval.”
The resolution passed by the council states that the city will continue to pursue any possible grants to offset the cost of the project.
Coon has begun the process of researching grants for the project, while the Friends of the Library will launch their capital campaign this fall, according to Frank Ridley, president of the Friends of the Library nonprofit.
Ridley said the nonprofit didn’t begin raising capital prior to the council vote because members didn’t know what action the council would take.
“One of the rules of fundraising is people need to know what they're giving the gift for and we didn't know,” he said. “The council could have come back and approved nothing.”
State bonding requests submitted in both chambers by local lawmakers aren’t expected to be taken up by the legislature until 2020. Coon said there is no deadline for collecting enough money for the expansion. The council approved the renovation project on the condition that the city receives a $1 million library construction grant from the state, Coon said, the city doesn’t expect to learn whether it has received the grant until next year.
“We have time to catch our breath and figure out the best path forward,” Coon said.
Coon added that it’s hard to say how likely it is that the city and library will pull together enough money, but said: “you never say never.”
“We’re just going to try, and no matter what happens, the renovation project is going to significantly improve Meriden’s library right now,” he said.