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Town Council gives provisional approval to library bond

Date: 5/16/2012

May 16, 2012

By Debbie Gardner

EDITOR's NOTE On May 15, Mayor Gregory Neffinger signed an order authorizing the town to secure a bond totaling $5.1 million to be used in support of the proposed public library project.

He said that amount, which is less than the town's anticipated $7.1 million share of the projected $13.4 million project, reflects his understanding that the Friends of the West Springfield Public Library expect to raise $2 million toward construction costs through a fund-raising campaign.

In 2001, the town received notice it had been awarded a $6.2 million grant toward the proposed project by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissions (MBLC, based on an original schematic design for the library project that re-used Mittineague Elementary School. The project has now been re-formulated to site the proposed library at its original location on 200 Park St.

Neffinger said the town is waiting to hear if the MBLC will accept the site change.

WEST SPRINGFIELD — The Town Council has given a unanimous nod to the appropriation necessary to move the long-stalled public library project forward.

At its May 7 meeting, the council voted 9-0 to approve a resolution allowing Mayor Gregory Neffinger to borrow up to $13.4 million "to pay costs of planning, designing, constructing, originally equipping and furnishing a new West Springfield Public Library to be located at 200 Park St., or in the alternate, planning, designing, remodeling, reconstructing, making extraordinary repairs, adding to, equipping and furnishing the existing West Springfield Public Library."

Language in the resolution stipulates that the loan authorization is contingent on West Springfield receiving a $6.2 million grant previously awarded to the project by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC), the library's Board of Trustees completing a proposed capital campaign to raise $2 million for the project, the town pursuing Historic Tax Credits and possible Community Preservation Act money to assist in the restoration of the library's Carnegie wing, and the town applying for any and all potential state and federal funding for the project.

At Large Town Councilor Brian Griffin said the language of the resolution, and the reformulation of the original library project to re-site it in the downtown area, represented many hours of hard work by the Ad Hoc Library Committee he chaired.

He said once the committee learned that the School Department had no immediate plans to decommission Mittineague Elementary School — the original site selected and presented to the MBLC as the home of West Springfield's new public library — they began reviewing the original project documents and interviewing all parties involved in order to formulate a new direction for the library project.

"Everybody had a seat at the table and everybody's voice was heard," Griffin said. "We gained a consensus as to which [direction] we were going to move.

The Town Council rejected the original bond authorization at its Jan. 17 meeting based on the MBLC's decision to give the town a six-month extension to resolve conflicts with its proposed project.

"It was nothing short of miraculous," he continued. "From January until now — the project was basically dead on arrival — to bring [the library] back into downtown where most of the town wanted it, it was no small feat."

Griffin said one of the biggest stumbling blocks for the proposed downtown library site is parking. The MBLC requires one dedicated parking place for every 400 square foot of building. With a plan that calls for a 3,200 square foot library, Griffin said in re-using the current Park Street location "we had a shortfall of 44 spaces."

He said that the MBLC does allow a library to include on-street parking places within a five-minute walk to satisfy parking requirements for a proposed project.

"There are 318 spaces within easy walking distance [of the current library]," Griffin said. "Elm Street has 163, Park Street has 10, [William A.] Cowing [Elementary School] has 40, [Philip G.] Coburn [Elementary School] has 52, the senior center has 53 . the library [proposal] can include 95 of these on-street spots to satisfy the bylaw."

Neffinger, who along with State Sen. James Welch and State Rep. Michael Finn will present the town's re-sited and re-formulated library project proposal to the MBLC in Boston on June 7, said that even with the parking problem potentially solved, the project still has some hurdles to overcome.

"The proposal that was developed for the Mittineague site was based on requirements from the MBLC," Neffinger said. "We actually had a design [for the Park Street site] in 2001 that failed to get grant funding."

He said though the 2001 design was sound; there have been changes in the requirements for a proposal to meet MBLC approval.

"We feel we already have experience [designing] for the existing site," Neffinger continued. "I'm hoping to take the 2011 proposal for the Mittineague site and adjust [it]."

He said even with compliance, the potential for MBLC approval of a change of site is slim according to Matthew Blumenfield of Financial Development Agency, a consultant working with the library's Board of Trustees on its campaign.

"He knows how they work, how they think," Neffinger said. "He thinks there's a chance of getting them to [maintain] the grant, but having them approve the change of site is very rare."

He said even if this proposal is rejected by the MBLC, "the library definitely needs improvement" and he will make the project a priority, while still being mindful of the town's current and upcoming bonding obligations.

"It's critical, in my opinion, that [the library] bond has to fit in with our future bonding and not raise taxes," Neffinger said of the current proposal, or any plans that might be drawn up subsequent to the June meeting.

"If this [current plan] is not accepted," he continued, "We will begin redesigning and reapply to the state for another grant."

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