OPINION: Meriden library looks to the future

A City Council committee recently recommended spending between $1.665 million and $1.9 million in federal funding to help renovate the Meriden Public Library’s Miller Street building.

This was a good move. Money from the American Rescue Plan Act would go toward replacing the library’s heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system. There remains some uncertainty about all of this, because additional steps await. As Michael Gagne reported in the Record-Journal, the whole City Council needs to vote on how much is going to be spent, and that will be based on which project to improve the library finally gets the go-ahead.

These things can take time to work out. It was encouraging to see that the committee’s vote was unanimous. A Finance Committee vote was less committed, coming in at 3 to 2 to recommend expansion, as opposed to renovation.

I’ll admit my eyes can start to glaze over when there are a lot of dollar signs in stories. The cost of renovating is $10.25 million, as opposed to just more than $13 million for renovation and expansion. The cost to the city with the renovation plan is about $7.3 million, as opposed to nearly $9.97 million for the renovation and expansion. There are more money details, and any way you look at it a lot of money is involved.

Two years ago the council had approved renovation, which included authorizing $6.8 million in bond funding, but project costs have increased since that authorization.

That seems a long time ago, basically because everything can seem a long time ago if it came before the pandemic, but there are all sorts of reasons to support the library as much as possible.

One is that the library is downtown, and not too far from the Meriden Green. The city has focused a lot of energy there, and the library can serve as a focal point — maybe not the focal point, but one of them. When I saw the artist’s rendering of what the new library entrance might look like I thought, wow, that will look great next to the Green. You can call me optimistic.

Another reason is the library serves all residents, as opposed to the city’s golf course or airport.

Another is that the library is a place that feeds the mind. How many places can you think of that do that? It’s an equal opportunity learning opportunity. How important that is for children is not something you can overestimate.

The most important reason may be that a library is a community’s gesture toward the future. Just having one shows faith that there will be a future (not something to take for granted). Looking toward the future came up during recent deliberations, but because just about everyone involved is up for re-election I’m going to leave them out of it for the time being.

I can quote Benjamin Franklin. A 2003 Record-Journal story included his observation at the time of the American Revolution that libraries “have improved the general conversation of Americans, made the common tradesmen and farmers as intelligent as most gentlemen from other countries.”

Here’s another quote, from George Curtis, in 1903: “It is Mrs. Curtis’ hope … that the building will prove a help to the education and entertainment of all the people of Meriden.” George Curtis’ mother, Augusta M. Curtis, had donated the Curtis Memorial Library, and it served as the city library until 1977. Now it’s the Augusta Curtis Cultural Center.

That’s an example of what can come from a commitment to the future.

Reach Jeffery Kurz at jkurz@record-journal.com

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