Greenfield Public Library celebrates $9.38M grant

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by David McLellan, courtesy of The Recorder

Bustling with people in “friends of the library” T-shirts holding cups of lemonade and conversing with politicians, it wasn’t a normal Saturday afternoon at the Greenfield Public Library.  It was a celebration of a $9.38 million grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners that many see as the key to starting construction on a new library on Main Street.

According to Doris Cowdrey, chairwoman of the library’s Board of Trustees, the original estimated cost for a new building was $20.5 million, and the grant — being that it nearly halves that cost — makes the project much more plausible.  “This is a great day, a great day to celebrate,” said state Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru. “It’s a significant amount of money coming from the state. It’s a once-in-a-generation, if not once-in-a-lifetime, opportunity.”

Construction on the building is not guaranteed, Cowdrey said. City Council must vote within six months to approve the money, and, if that happens, construction must begin within a year and a half.

Many at Saturday’s celebration were optimistic that a new library will be built.

“I’m very supportive of this event and I’m very motivated to see this in our town in the future,” said real estate broker Joe Ruggeri, who said a new library would be a great improvement to the town and offer a community hub.

The details of the project, if approved, are not entirely set in stone, but some goals include a 26,800 square-feet floor plan and a building with improved handicap accessibility and more meeting spaces, study and community areas. Around 500 people visit the library each day, according to Cowdrey.

Joanna Whitney, who has led writing workshops at the library, has visited other area libraries to get a sense of how they are making their buildings accessible.  Whitney, who is in a wheelchair, is passionate about making a new library “accessible for everyone,” and has served in an advisory role to reach that goal.

“The thing that matters the most to me is that everyone uses the same door,” Whitney said, explaining that she usually enters the current building through the back entrance. “As someone who’s old enough to remember segregation, it really resonates with me that all of my friends go through the front door, while I go around to the back.”

Whitney said she is confident those involved will listen to her wishes when it comes time to design a new building.  “In 200 years, someone like me won’t be telling you about these problems,” she said.

Much of the project’s likelihood hinges on whether or not a new emergency services complex can be built in town — the new library, if approved, would be between the existing library and post office on Main Street, requiring the demolition of the fire station.

According to Mayor William Martin, negotiations for a new emergency services complex are in the works, and a lease is expected to be finalized by next month.

Cowdrey expressed hope that the Greenfield Public Library Foundation could raise another $2 million for the project. Changing the goal of achieving platinum LEED certification — an environmentally friendly building certification — to net zero-energy use could also knock off $3 million from the cost.