SOUTHINGTON — While town leaders were hesitant about a major library building project last year, there’s now more support for sending the $17 million funding request to town voters.
Library officials hope to build a new library at the 255 Main St. property and then tear down the existing building.
On Monday, the Town Council unanimously voted to send the project to the Planning and Zoning Commission and Board of Finance for review. Due to the price tag, the new library would need approval by voters at a referendum in November.
Victoria Triano, a Republican and council chairwoman, said they’re trying to build a library that will meet the town’s needs for decades.
Last year, library officials pitched a new 25,500 square-foot library at the cost of $13.9 million. This year they’re proposing a 30,000 square foot building for $16.9 milliion. The existing library building is 21,000 square feet.
“This is really more in tune with what they want and what they feel they need,” Triano said.Library needs for growing town
Library leaders have said the existing building, which dates from the 1970s, doesn’t have enough space, and isn’t handicapped accessible. Children and teen areas in particular are constricted and there’s often not enough quiet study spots.
Joanne Kelleher, a library board member, led a board subcommittee that last year recommended a $17 million new building. That request was reduced at the direction of council leaders to keep in line with what had been approved in the town’s capital budget.
Kelleher was concerned that the smaller building for $14 million would fail to meet the town’s needs, leaving it in a similar position as the existing library. She was pleased at Monday’s support.
“The (council) was 100 percent behind that and we’re very excited,” Kelleher said.Construction costs
Paul Chaplinsky, a Republican and council member, asked library leaders and architect Jeffrey Hoover about rising construction and materials costs.
Construction likely wouldn’t take place until 2023, if the project is approved by voters later this year. Hoover said cost increases were calculated into the $17 million price tag.
With large projects that are years out, Chaplinsky said it’s not unusual to have price fluctuations. Unexpected increases for labor or materials though could mean a smaller library. Once approved by voters, Chaplinsky said the town can’t add to the project’s cost.
“If materials and resources do continue to go up, it means that footprint of the buildout would have to be smaller,” he said. “Once the referendum goes through, if it goes through, the price is fixed.”A different year
Chaplinsky said the library request comes to the council as the pandemic comes to an end. That’s very different from last year when library leaders asked for a new building as the pandemic began.
“Hopefully we’re in a better position to support this. Certainly a year ago I wasn’t comfortable with such a proposal going forward,” he said.
Chris Poulos, a Democrat and council member, said he’s always supported a 30,000 square foot library.
“I advocated for that last year, I advocated for that this year,” he said.
“For me, it’s about having the appropriate-size library,” Poulos said. “The 30,000 square feet was the consensus for what we needed for our population.”
Town leaders were also optimistic about getting public support for the referendum. Joanna Furgalack, a library board member, said they’ll start making the case to town groups and residents once the referendum is set.
“It would be a great deal for the town of Southington to support a new library,” she said. “We’re looking to convince (residents) that it’s a great thing.”