MERIDEN — The state library board recently approved the city’s request for a $1 million grant for public library renovations, however, the project may be put on hold as the city waits for the state to release the funding.
The State Bond Commission, chaired by the governor, still needs to vote to release the money, which could take upwards of a year if it happens at all. The City Council approved the library renovations, estimated to cost $7.8 million, earlier this year on the condition that the city uses $1 million in state grant funding.
The state library board on Nov. 25 voted to approve the city’s grant application, but the bond commission has final say over whether the money is released. The library grants come from a pot of money the library board doles out to municipalities each year for library construction and renovations.
The bond commission is scheduled to meet Wednesday. The agenda includes just under $3 million in funding for eight different library projects, all of which were approved by the state library board last year. In addition to approving a grant for Meriden, the state library board, which had $13.5 million in its library construction fund going into last month’s meeting, also approved grants for the towns of Bethany, Warren and Waterford. None of those projects are on the bond commission’s Wednesday agenda.
“It’s not like Meriden is being plucked out of the batch” of projects recently approved by the state library board, said state Rep. Emil “Buddy” Altobello, D-Meriden, who sits on the legislature’s Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee.
While city officials had hoped Meriden’s library grant would get on the Dec. 18 agenda, Altobello said that would have been unrealistic, because the state Office of Policy and Management, which is responsible for budgeting and bonding, needs time to further review the request before it goes before the bond commission.
Until then, the grant funding will remain up in the air and the city will “somewhat be at the mercy of the governor and the state legislature,” City Manager Tim Coon said.
“Be patient,” Altobello said as a message to those awaiting the funding. Waiting game
Coon expressed optimism that the city’s state delegation will work with the governor’s office to get Meriden’s request on a bond commission agenda sooner than a year from now, the amount of time the eight towns on next week’s agenda had to wait.
If the city has to wait a year, Coon said, it doesn’t necessarily pose any major problems, however, he did note that construction costs tend to “escalate” by about two or three percent annually, which means the city could pay more the longer it waits.
The $7.8 million project would entail a full renovation of the library’s public space, but will not increase the library’s overall 45,000-square-foot footprint. The renovation project, however, will also change the configuration of the existing space to expand certain areas in need of more room, including the children's room (set to be expanded by about 1,000 square feet), multipurpose area (expanded by about 1,200 square feet) and the teen area (expanded by about 1,400 square feet).
Frances Rosario, library clerk, works at the front desk at the Meriden Public Library, Mon., Dec. 2, 2019. | Dave Zajac, Record-Journal
The City Council in July chose the renovation project over a more-expensive $9.3 million project that would have renovated the library and also added 9,000 square feet for programming.
A majority of councilors — seven of 12 — preferred the expansion project, however, City Charter required eight votes, more than a simple majority, to pass the project because the city had already exceeded its bonding cap for the year.
Knowing they didn’t have enough votes, the seven councilors unanimously voted to approve the cheaper option because “we had to come away with something,” Council Majority Leader David Lowell said at the time.