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Council getting calls over library
J.J. Huggins Sentinel & Enterprise, September 20, 2006

LEOMINSTER -- Some city councilors told library officials Tuesday they've gotten an earful from residents angry that the mayor is asking the council to approve a $1.3 million loan for unexpected building costs.

City Council President Robert Salvatelli, while touring the new library, said he has heard senior citizens complain they are afraid their property-tax bills will rise because of the proposed spending.

"I get stopped every day. I've been on the council for seven years and this is the most I've ever heard," Salvatelli said.

Salvatelli was one of 16 people that toured the under-construction library building across the street from City Hall.

"We have worked very hard to keep additional construction costs down," responded project manager Michael J. Mullaney, Vice President of McKenzie Engineering Company Inc of Leominster. "We recommended changes to the building committee, without sacrificing the quality of the project."

Peter Byerly of Beacon Architectural Associates of Boston, the architects for the project, blamed most of the cost overruns on a delay in putting the project out to bid, which allowed building material costs to rise.

Officials also encountered unforeseen conditions when they began building the new library, such as finding asbestos in the old building and ledge in the ground at the site, according to Library Director Susan Shelton.

Officials estimated in 2002 the project would cost $12 million.

The City Council approved $7.8 million for the new library in 2003. And the state agreed to pay for $3 million of the cost.

Construction started last year.

While touring the building Tuesday, Ward 1 City Councilor David Rowlands commented about it's size.

"As I look out here, this place is huge," he said. "It's beautiful, but it's huge."

Shelton and Mayor Dean J. Mazzarella explained to the councilors that in order to get a $3 million state grant to help pay for the building, they had to meet a size requirement set by the state.

They based the size of the building on Leominster's growth rate, which says the city's population will swell to 52,000 in 20 years, they said.

Leominster's current population is about 42,000.

Officials designed the library to meet the minimum size requirement in order to get the grant, according to Shelton and Mazzarella.

The new building and the old building total 44,500 square feet, according to Shelton.

Rowlands said he wants to have some documentation so he can explain to residents how the city had to meet the minimum requirement in order to get state funding.

Shelton, during an interview after the tour, said she has the documentation and plans to provide it to the councilors.

The original library on West Street was built in 1910, and was added onto in the 1960s.

The library currently operates at a temporary location on Mechanic Street.

The new building is 80 percent done and is slated to open in the spring of 2007.

Officials first realized there was going to be a funding shortfall a few years ago when they encountered the bidding delay, according to Mark Bodanza, the chairman of the Library Building Committee.

They realized in late August that the total sum of the additional money they were going to need would be $1.3 million, according to Mullaney, the project manager.

The council's Finance subcommittee is scheduled to discuss the funding at their meeting, which begins at 6:45 p.m. at City Hall Thursday night.

Shelton began leading the tour around 5:45 p.m. Monday, and it lasted roughly an hour.

Councilors walked past piles of wood and boxes full of construction supplies as Shelton showed them the first-floor childrens' section.

She noted the wide corridor connecting the new building and the old building.

She showed them the "auditorium," which is actually just a large room that can hold about 150 people -- not a traditional auditorium one might find in a school.

She took them onto the second floor of the three-story section of the new building, and showed them where adults will be able to sit at desks and read.


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