May 7, 2021

Chester Selectmen Receive $3.09 Million Library Expansion and Restoration Proposal

CHESTER— The board of selectmen Tuesday got its first look at a plan for a $3.09 million renovation and expansion of the Chester Public Library that was developed by a library expansion feasibility study committee established earlier this year. The board made no immediate decision on how, or when, to bring the project to the town’s voters in a possible bonding referendum.

Library Director Linda Fox, and Terry Schreiber, chairwoman of the study committee, were joined for the presentation by architect Kenneth Best, with the South Windsor firm of Drummney-Rosane-Anderson Inc. The firm was hired last spring, using funds from a $20,000 state grant, to investigate options for a renovation and expansion of the historic 1906 library building located on West Main Street, also known as Route 148.

Best presented a preliminary conceptual plans for a 2,000 square-foot expansion that would double the size of the existing 2,000 square-foot library building. There would be additions on both the east and west sides of the building, providing an expanded children’s section, a larger program space, an office for the library director, and additional storage space.

The building would be made completely handicapped-accessible, with a new staircase and elevator from the basement-like lower level. The historic front entrance with steps would be preserved, with a new, handicapped-accessible main entrance from the west side of the building. There would also be a new and relocated septic system, new restrooms, and a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.

The total cost of the project is estimated at $3,091,600, including funding for a temporary location for most library programs and services during the estimated 12 to 15 months of construction. Best said building a new library in a different location would cost at least $2.75 million, a figure that does not include any and acquisition expense.

Schreiber said the elected library board of directors would like to proceed with the project, noting the idea of a renovation and expansion has been studied for nearly three years. “We’d like to go with it,” she said. Fox said library supporters were hoping for a bonding referendum next spring or summer, with Best noting the cost estimates were based on 2014 construction dollars.

The selectmen were supportive, but cautious, with First Selectman Edmund Meehan noting there are no funds set aside in the current town budget to pay for a more detailed design plan that could be presented to the voters in a bonding referendum.

Selectman Tom Englert and Selectman Lawrence Sypher each suggested that library supporters should conduct a fundraising drive that could help reduce the total bonding expense for taxpayers. “It’s a big number for people to swallow in these economic times,” Englert said.

Best said an appropriation of about $15,000 would pay for more detailed schematic designs plans and cost estimate that could form the basis for a bonding proposal. He said it would cost about $150,000 to produce extremely detailed “bid ready” design plans for a building project.

Meehan said he would prefer to use a less costly design effort to set the stage for a bonding proposal, while adding that selectmen, working with the board of finance, would not be able to identity funding for further design work until early next year. Meehan said some surplus funds could be generated by the rental payments from Essex Savings Bank for the leased space at town hall, along with the possibility of some unexpended education funds after school spending audits are complete later this fall.

Meehan urged the library expansion committee to “flesh out some options on how to proceed,”’ with the board to discuss the library project further at a future meeting.