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Library's new chapter - Leominster celebrates construction milestone
Matthew Bruun, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, January 12, 2006

LEOMINSTER - While the Leominster Public Library's massive addition is still a year away from opening, much celebration took place at the construction site yesterday morning.

Officials held a "topping off" ceremony, at which library backers signed their names to one of the last steel beams to be installed in the 35,000-square-foot addition on Pearl Street.

Rod Schaffter brought his 3-year-old daughter, Lucy, so she could look at the edifice in future years and know she was there when it began.

"It's really nice to see this come to fruition," Mr. Schaffter said. He is the moderator at the neighboring Pilgrim Congregational Church, which has worked with the library in sharing parking space during the project.

A small, fresh-cut evergreen was attached to the beam that bore signatures of library trustees, building committee members, city councilors and other guests.

Keith Alderman, minister at the Pilgrim Congregational Church, said the tree was part of a tradition that began in nautical times.

"It's to bless the construction and bless the workers," he said, noting that trees used to be put on the masts of ships as they were built.

Mark C. Bodanza, chairman of the Library Building Committee, was among the many signers of the beam before it was hoisted.

With the old addition demolished, the sprawling steel skeleton of the new construction is giving residents and passers-by a sense of the scope of the revamped library, which is expected to open its doors to the public in early 2007.

"It's obviously exciting now that it's got three dimensions and it's out of the ground," Mr. Bodanza said. "Once you have a visual it tends to develop a burst of excitement."

Library officials hope that buzz will translate into dollars.

A major capital fundraising campaign has begun, with a target of $1.2 million for the project. The fundraising campaign is co-chaired by Leominster Credit Union President and Chief Executive Officer John R. Caulfield and Building Committee member Susan Chalifoux Zephir.

The cost of the project is just under $12.2 million, with almost $11 million being covered by a local bond of $7.8 million, a $3 million grant from the state, $109,000 in library trust funds and more than $53,000 in miscellaneous funds.

The fundraising campaign is being held to close the $1.2 million shortfall between the funds raised so far and the projected costs.

More than 20 percent of the $1.2 million goal has already been reached, Library Director Susan T. Shelton said.

Carol A. Millette, vice chairwoman of the library's board of trustees and a member of the Building Committee, said the city will get decades of use out of the expanded building.

"It's very exciting, something we've waited a long time for," she said. "It's our jewel."

Building Committee Vice Chairman John B. McLaughlin recalled talk of expanding the library during his tenure as mayor of the city in the mid-1970s.

"It's wonderful," he said, as people took turns signing the beam as it lay before the construction site. "It's kind of a dream come true."

The committee has worked hard to find savings on the project, especially when confronted with higher than anticipated costs such as asbestos removal and site preparation.

Mayor Dean J. Mazzarella sent a request to the City Council seeking an appropriation of more than $42,000 toward library costs, representing the inspection fees the city had already collected on the project.

Those fees couldn't be waived since they had already been assessed, Mr. McLaughlin said, adding he appreciated the mayor's help in getting the money put back into the project.

Mr. Mazzarella said he knew that some costs had risen for the project since its inception, including the price of steel. Channeling the inspection charges back into the project should help the construction stay on budget, he said.

"They're going to need it," Mr. Mazzarella said.

City Councilors Claire M. Freda, James J. Lanciani Jr. and Dennis A. Rosa were also on hand to sign the beam yesterday.

"It's just a great feeling," Mrs. Freda said, adding she was happy to see children at the event. "This is what we did it for, the future of our community."

Though the role of libraries has changed over the years, Mrs. Freda said they provide a critical public service that is worth the investment.

"It's such a core piece of the community," she said.

City leaders have long voiced hopes the expanded library will be a catalyst for growth in the neighborhood off the main downtown corridor.



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