Library's Expansion  | Newspaper Articles

Leominster library costs rising
Matthew Bruun, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, September 13, 2006

LEOMINSTER - Although it is expected to win the support of the City Council, the request for another $1.3 million toward construction costs on the massive expansion of the Leominster Public Library will face some tough scrutiny.

Councilor Dennis A. Rosa, chairman of the Finance Committee, has scheduled a meeting for 6:45 p.m. Sept. 21 to explore the request, which had its first appearance on the council agenda Monday night.

"I'm a little concerned we're so far into the project and the City Council is just now hearing about this shortfall," Mr. Rosa said yesterday. "I am charged with a fiduciary duty to look into this and see how this happened."

Library Director Susan T. Shelton said the project, budgeted around $12.4 million, has hit snags that have driven up the cost. When the renovated and expanded library opens next spring, the building will comprise more than 44,000 square feet.

As the demolition of a section of the building got under way, hidden asbestos was discovered that had to be removed. Ledge was also found, and underground water forced the addition of sump pumps and other measures.

"There really were unforeseen site conditions that have taken up 68 percent of our contingency (fund) for the project," Mrs. Shelton said yesterday. "We had every reason to hope we were going to stay within the amount of money budgeted. You always expect you're going to encounter something on the site, but we hit everything."

After the scope of the project was defined, she added, changes in state law concerning oversight of construction projects led to increased monitoring costs.

When construction bids came in higher than anticipated, Mrs. Shelton continued, the contingency fund was sliced thin, to about 4 percent of the estimated construction cost. Ideally, she said, that fund would have been closer to 7 percent.

"We just didn't have that luxury," she said. "You just hope all goes well."

Council President Robert A. Salvatelli said he has heard concerns from community members about the rising cost of the project, along with surprise at the sheer size of the building.

"I think people are just going to have to be patient because ultimately it's going to be a big plus to the community," Mr. Salvatelli said yesterday. "We're going to find a community resource that is going to be second to none."

The council approved the borrowing of $7.8 million for the project three years ago. Library officials pledged to raise a further $1.2 million for furniture, fixtures and equipment for the project, which includes a 35,000-square-foot addition.

Mrs. Shelton said the fundraising effort just reached $700,000, including cash and pledges.

Mr. Rosa said pledges are great, but he wants to see dollars in hand.

"It's going to take some time to go through this budget," he said yesterday. "I've heard from an awful lot of people that are just taken aback this has run into these cost overruns."

Mr. Rosa, who prides himself on being a fiscal conservative, said he was surprised by widespread discussion of large-scale spending projects at the same time the library has gone into cost overruns.

There is a move afoot to buy the former Julie Country Day School, which would cost millions, Mr. Rosa said. Meanwhile the city has invested $900,000 in plans to renovate Southeast School, but construction hasn't been able to move forward because the money isn't there.

"The city of Leominster is in good financial shape, but we're going in too many directions," Mr. Rosa said.

Mrs. Shelton said she remains optimistic about the fundraising efforts and the support of the city.

"It's a wonderful project," she said. "It's really going to be a remarkable public facility. It's just been a challenging project."



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