State pledges extra $472K toward Tilton Library project

By CHRIS LARABEE and SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writers

Published: 06-07-2023 5:54 PM

After nearly 10 months of writing letters and meeting with officials in hopes of securing more state funding, Tilton and Jones libraries’ requests have been answered.

The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners’ (MBLC) has announced its plans to increase its grant awards for 12 library projects by 15%, totaling $11.2 million. Tilton Library in South Deerfield is receiving an extra payment of $471,703 toward its $12.3 million project, while Jones Library in Amherst is receiving nearly $1.7 million in additional funding.

The extra allocation puts a bow on a statewide effort to rally former Gov. Charlie Baker and current Gov. Maura Healey’s administrations to provide more funding in the wake of skyrocketing construction costs resulting from the pandemic. The push, which began in Deerfield with a letter from its Selectboard, brought together 11 other libraries from as far east as Gloucester, along with more than a dozen legislators, to request that the state supply more aid to reduce the tax burden these construction projects put on residents.

“We are delighted because we have been working since this all started last summer,” commented Tilton Library Director Candace Bradbury-Carlin. “Our Selectboard just stepped right up and the ripple effect with all the players — the legislators, the libraries all joining together — it almost felt like an unstoppable force. … To actually see a result is wonderful.”

Tilton Library’s project will expand the building on North Main Street from 4,366 square feet to 12,784 square feet. Key improvements include expanded teen and children’s rooms, meeting and coworking spaces on the second floor, and a “nighttime suite” that will be accessible after hours featuring meeting spaces, a small kitchen and bathrooms. The original cost of the project was estimated at around $8 million, which would be offset by a $4 million grant from the MBLC, but that projection ballooned to $12.3 million in the years since the grant application was initially submitted.

The town was initially expected to borrow funds within the range of $5.26 million to $6.26 million and this extra $471,703 will lower that amount, reducing the tax burden on Deerfield residents.

On the town level, Deerfield Selectboard member Tim Hilchey wrote the initial letter that went out to the state and has been the lead working partner for the other libraries involved in this process, which often included weekly meetings with library representatives, including Jones Library Director Sharon Sharry, who he thanked for her work.

“Obviously, we’re pretty excited to get close to half a million dollars,” Hilchey said. “I’m very proud of the effort Candace and everyone from the Tilton put into this.”

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On the Pioneer Valley’s end, state Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton and state Reps. Natalie Blais, D-Deerfield, and Mindy Domb, D-Amherst, led the charge. Hilchey added this success was a “testament to the partnership” Deerfield and other local communities have with their state legislators.

“The libraries in our communities offer so much more than books — they are gathering spaces for knitting, coffee, yoga and Qigong; they are places where our children build LEGOs; they are even concert spaces and art galleries,” Blais said in a statement. “For these reasons, and many more, Sen. Comerford, Rep. Domb and I felt the urgency to work collectively together with our constituents, community leaders and colleagues across the commonwealth to identify a solution that would enable these critical infrastructure projects to advance.”

In that vein, Bradbury-Carlin said this work between communities, legislators and state agencies exemplifies the qualities of libraries in “being helpful, making connections and finding solutions.” She said their collaborative push led to a March meeting where the MBLC, legislators, Hilchey, libraries and library trustees gathered to talk about what could be done.

Hilchey said meetings with the 12 libraries began in February, but their work began at a Massachusetts Municipal Association conference in Boston in January, where they made a point to chat with MBLC representatives. Those efforts eventually led to the libraries getting a spot on the MBLC’s March meeting agenda, which resulted in the commissioners approving the increased funding at their June 1 meeting.

In Amherst, the Jones Library project is projected at $43.5 million. The library is being renovated and modernized to be fully accessible and among the most climate-friendly libraries in the state while being expanded from 48,000 square feet to 63,000 square feet. Much of the original 1928 building will be preserved and restored as part of the project. The original project cost was estimated at $36.6 million, with a $13.8 million grant from the MBLC and $15.8 million committed by Town Council in April 2021.

“We are grateful to the MBLC for this increase to help close the gap and see our project through,” Sharry said in a statement. “Their support is essential for every library in the commonwealth.”

The latest money for Jones Library comes after U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern last month announced $2.1 million in federal funding secured for the renovation and expansion.

While this avenue for funding is now closed, Hilchey voiced plans to seek out more sources to further reduce the burden the Tilton Library expansion project will have on Deerfield residents.

“We do plan to continue working to get more money,” he said, “and will remain optimistic that we still can.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081. Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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