South Hadley gives nod to Proposition 2 1/2 override,to fund a new public library.

The South Hadley Public Library, which is presently at 27 Bardwell Street in the Falls area.

South Hadley voters, in a special town election last Tuesday, endorsed a measure exempting the cost of  repaying any loans from the state to build a new Public library, from the Proposition 2  1/2  cap on annual property tax hikes.

The debt exclusion vote, which was the only item on the ballot in the Nov 8 referendum, passed 1,751 to 1,412, thereby allowing the town to use money from raising property taxes above the 2.5 percent levy ceiling on increases, that it is permitted to collect in a given year under Massachusetts law,  in order to reimburse the state for any money it borrows in helping cover the project’s estimated $10.1 million price tag.

Backers of the measure, say that the money in additional taxes,that is collected,  will on average amount to an extra $38 a year in taxes, though the town Accessor’s office said they haven’t calculated the numbers or released any such information. 

Thirty percent of registered South Hadley voters participated in the election, according to Town Clerk-Treasurer Carlene Hamlin, which came to a cost of $1400 for the town to hold.

” To say we are able to get all five precincts, with a majority in each one, is big,” said Joe Rodio, Director of the South Hadley Public Library, who supported a ‘yes’ vote on the question . He notes, that the amount of yes votes cast, exceeds the total number of people, that voted in town elections in April. Rodio says that a library is perceived differently than other functions of local government, which can be seen by many as complex or not directly beneficial to them.

A lawn sign in the front yard of a Spring Street resident, supporting the measure that passed last Tuesday.

” People have personal feelings for the library,” said Rodio, of those who use it. ” It’s not some abstract town government department or service. It’s something tangible that people put their hands on, come into, take something home and take something good from.”

Supporters next will have to work towards convincing two-thirds of members at a special town meeting,  formally authorize the use of funds, by way of a vote.

Building a new library has been discussed since about 2007, as part of a broader revitalization of South Hadley’s low-income Falls section. But, this July, when the town received a $4,841,312  construction grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, it appeared to at least financially, advancing a little closer to becoming a reality.

The town’s current library, is a one-floored colonial revival house at 27 Bardwell Street in South Hadley Falls. Built in 1906 with a $10,000 donation from millionaire industrial magnate Andrew Carnegie, it consisted of two rooms, which now serve as the multipurpose room and children’s area. In 1974, a second wing was added, and is where the library’s computers and most of its 45,000 items available to the public, are lodged. A second floor was also intended to be added on, but that plan was shelved due to budget tightening.

The rendering above, shows what a new South Hadley Public Library could look like.

But decades after its expansion, Rodio says the 8,800 square foot facility has grown more cramped. The constraints on available space make it difficult to enlarge the library’s collection or navigate through the tight passages between book cases or furniture. Both main entrances have steps, but no ramp to accommodate  the handicapped, while the rear parking area holds only eight vehicles. Given its age and design, it’s also more expensive to heat or power than a more modern energy efficient building, say its proponents.

Rodio says that attempts to resolve some of these issues individually, such as  making the bathrooms more up to par with ADA standards, would end up eating into other limited space, thereby exacerbating the crunch.

” So, you are actually, by making the building more up to code, going to be taking away from the minimum space we have now,” said Rodio.

Simply adding onto the existing building, might address some shortcomings, but given that its located on a small grassy tongue of  delta, about a quarter of an acre in size, locked in on all sides by streets at a five way intersection in a crowded residential neighborhood, the possibilities are limited. Rodio and other advocates say, that the best long-term solution is a new library building altogether.

The town purchased a two acre parcel of old industrial land on the banks of the Connecticut River last Autumn, for the project’s site. It offers a scenic view of the distant hills and winding river, along with the Holyoke Dam and old South Hadley Canal nearby. Though many of the details are still subject to change, its envisioned as a two floored building of about 22,000 square feet . It would likely include: a children’s area, an expanded number of computers, a larger checkout section, a conference room, meeting space for community groups and lectures, and a room dedicated to local history. Outside, there would be a parking lot, as well as ‘green space,’ that would serve as a venue for outdoor community events.

Those involved in the project, plan to spend much of 2012, working in conjunction with the town to come up with a final design, and participate fundraising efforts.

Already, the library has, in part through its Board of Trustees and ‘the Friends of the South Hadley Public Library’, made some headway, in getting contributions from private sources. A town wide mailing was sent out, encouraging individual donations to the library, while on its website, visitors are encouraged to give the library pennies or other loose change as part of thier ‘Give us Your Lincoln’s Drive’. So far, as many as two hundred individuals, have given a total of $100,000 to the campaign. Local businesses have also been sought out for contributions, such as People’s Bank ,which kicked in $200,000.

” Our goal is to raise a million dollars on our own, separate from the town funding, by asking for donations, gifts, and applying for grants,” said Rodio. So far, he says,  they are about $306,000 thousand dollars or a third of the way towards meeting that aim. Right now, Rodio tabulates that if fund-raising was to cease right now, the cost to the town come to about $4.2 million. It’s the hope of the library’s proponents, though that they can reach their one million goal, that would lower the town’s share to $3.5 million.

If all goes well, Rodio predicts that the new building could be completed and opened to the public, sometime in the Summer or Fall of 2014.d last Tuesday.

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