A lingering doubt shadows Southington’s efforts to get a new public library. While work continues to keep the project approved by voters on track, there’s the persisting idea the town should just start over.
OK. Maybe going back to referendum wouldn’t be completely starting over, but it would also be hard not to see it that way. That’s likely part of why it hasn’t gone any further than just talk. Plus, would voters just defeat the whole idea a second time around?
To recap: Southington voters approved spending $17 million for a new library at a November 2021 referendum. The town needs a new library — it would be hard to argue otherwise, and more than 60 percent of the vote saw it that way. I remember thinking of it as a positive move for the future taken amid the dark times of the pandemic.
But rising costs put pressure on the project, and it became apparent the money approved wasn’t going to go as far as thought. The $17 million that was going to build a new library at 30,000 square feet was only going to make it to 24,000 square feet, just 3,000 square feet larger than the library it was replacing.
You could say a committee tasked with doing more with less did a good job with a difficult task, but you could also say there are those for whom that just wasn’t going to make enough of a difference.
The 2021 election was a good one for Republicans in Southington. All GOP incumbents won re-election to the Town Council, and Republicans maintained majorities on the Board of Education, Board of Finance and the Planning and Zoning Commission. If Republicans wanted another library referendum there would be one scheduled by now, I figure.
But doubts remain, and support for another referendum has not gone away. So, you get this duality of progress and doubt.
I will offer a recent example. A couple of days ago under the headline “Library project needs donors,” a Record-Journal story outlined the ways the Library Capital Campaign Committee is planning to raise money for the project. The aim is to raise money “to pay for essential interior furnishings for the new building — upwards of $700,000.” The story offered interesting details about fundraising and plans.
The next day Republicans on the council approved sending plans for zoning approval on to the Planning and Zoning Commission. As the R-J’s Jesse Buchanan noted, Democrats voted against it. “They wanted to consider another referendum for additional money that would provide for a larger library.”
Democratic Councilor Jack Perry said: “I don’t want to see increased spending, but at the same time I don’t want to see a project done in the wrong way. So let the voters decide.”
A story on Friday, the third day in a row with library-related coverage, included criticism from the Friends of the Southington Public Library “regarding the need for more communication and how the reduced size of the building from its original 30,000-square foot proposal could impact their ability to operate in the new space.”
As you can see, it hasn’t been easy getting people on the same page — and doubt is likely to linger when it comes to this project.
Reach Jeffery Kurz at email@example.com.