Library's Expansion  | Newspaper Articles

$1.3M loan may be needed for library
Marisa Donelan, Sentinel & Enterprise, September 10, 2006

LEOMINSTER -- Mayor Dean J. Mazzarella will ask City Councilors to consider approving a loan of $1.3 million to pay for unexpected costs of expanding the Leominster Public Library.

Mazzarella said the request is necessary because construction has cost more than city officials initially expected.

Mazzarella said he learned last week about the additional costs.

"I knew when all the other building projects in the state, and all the schools projects, were coming in way above where they were supposed to be," he said. "I sort of thought ours would come in high as well."

Library Director Susan Shelton said Friday the increase in construction costs is due to a delay in bidding for the project, as well as some unforeseen obstacles that appeared when building began in 2005.

Planning for the massive renovation project began in 1999 when a feasibility study determined that the old building would not meet the needs of a growing Leominster community.

Architects and city officials estimated in 2002 that the project would cost about $12 million.

Shelton said Friday that the project is being paid for by a state grant and city money; and officials also hope to raise $1.2 million for furnishings and equipment by the time the library reopens.

"The project is funded in part by a $3 million state construction grant, and we needed to get money to complete the construction through our municipality," she said.

City Councilors voted in 2003 to approve $7.8 million for construction, Shelton said.

But during that time, the State Division of Capital Asset Management (DCAM) set forth regulations regarding public-construction projects, she said.

Shelton said officials had hoped to send the project out for bid in the fall of 2004, but delayed bidding until the following spring, because they were unsure whether the new DCAM regulations applied to the library project, which was already underway.

"It was unclear as to whether this new act was a requirement for us," she said. "This was clarified several months later when (DCAM) issued regulations for compliance, and it was determined that the bidding of the library's project would need to be delayed pending a required code compliance and structural-peer review."

The city had to hire an independent firm to examine construction documents for the review, Shelton said.

When city officials sent the project out to bid in the spring of 2005, estimates came in significantly higher than anticipated in 2002, so they transferred money budgeted for furnishing and equipment to cover the shortfall, Shelton said.

They also took money from a small "contingency fund," budgeted for any future construction costs, just to pay for the initial bid, she said.

Then, as construction began in July 2005, builders were again delayed by problems at the site, Shelton said.

"We have had some unanticipated, but significant, site conditions that we've had to deal with, including hidden asbestos, substantial rock removal, and water remediation," she said.

Members of a Library Fundraising Steering Committee began fundraising last year to make up the money that was originally designated to furnish the building, which is set to open in the spring of 2007.

Shelton said $700,000 has been donated so far - about 60 percent of the committee's goal of $1.2 million.

Mazzarella said he hopes people will continue to step up with donations for the library expansion.

"The big thing is fundraising ..." he said. "That $1.3 million could go away very quickly."

Ward 3 City Councilor Claire Freda said Friday she has not researched the mayor's request for the loan because it is appearing on the City Council agenda for the first time this week.

The request will be introduced Monday but councilors will not discuss it, Freda said.

"I don't know all the details of it, but I knew there was a shortfall," she said. "I know we'll have the next few weeks to discuss and evaluate it."

Also on the agenda for tomorrow's meeting is Ward 5 City Councilor Richard M. Marchand's request that Mazzarella negotiate to buy Julie Country Day School, which closed in June, to use as a kindergarten center.

Marchand could not be reached for comment Friday, but Freda and Mazzarella said the proposal is in its beginning stages, and city officials have not yet toured the school.

Freda said although the 16-acre Lindell Street campus is assessed at $4 million, the building's owners - The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur - will likely ask for more.

"There's a lot that needs to be done... It's not available to us right now," she said. "It's going to be much more than the assessed value. That's a prime piece of property."

Mazzarella said he doesn't mind looking into buying Julie Country Day, but said he wants to look at "one project at a time."

The City Council will meet Monday in the City Hall Council Chambers, with public hearings beginning at 6:55 p.m. and the regular meeting at 8 p.m.




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