State grant for public library expansion will expire unused

A dozen years ago Trustees developed a strategic plan and an expansion was part of that plan. A Library Expansion Committee has been working since 2002 to develop plans to double the size of the library.

Since that time expansion plans have stalled.

Library director Carl DeMilia said Tuesday the Board of Trustees is updating the strategic plan "to better understand community needs" related to services and space needs.

The Trustees are planning three focus groups next month and interested residents are encouraged to register for the two-hour meetings.

There will be a session for adults Sept. 11 at 7 p.m.; a session for teens, grades 8-11, on Sept. 14 at 4 p.m. and a third session Sept. 15 at 10 a.m. for adults.

In January 2001, voters approved purchasing the Couillard property at 25 Church St. for $255,000 and the Town Council agreed to hold the site for three years for a library expansion project. That use option has been extended annually with the latest extension expiring in January.

In 2003 the State Library approved a $500,000 library construction grant and that grant has also been extended.

A year ago, however, the council in a 5-4 vote decided against moving forward with a town meeting and referendum vote on a proposed $13 million library expansion project in the village center.

Some objected to the price tag, while others wanted the plan considered in the context of other major projects including sewer plant expansion and a new ambulance barn.

Others argued that the library expansion committee had answered the questions asked by the council, and said it was time to let the public make a decision.

Still others have argued the town could build a new library at another site for less money.

"I'm concerned we'll lose our grant money if it doesn't go forward in a timely manner," Joyce Hermonat, the library expansion committee chairman, said.

Her concerns were well founded.

Mr. DeMilia said Tuesday the town will forfeit the construction grant because it can't break ground by Sept. 26.

"We pushed it as far as we could," he said, explaining the town is not eligible for further extensions of time.

When the town obtained the grant, there was hope the expansion would be completed this year.

Mayor Pat Murphy has asked the expansion committee to come back with scaled back plans -- "something not as grand" -- and the Library Expansion Committee is currently reconsidering the expansion proposal.

Residents may sign up for the focus groups in person at the library service desks or by e-mail at with "focus group volunteer" in the subject line.

The project is being funded in part by the Ellen Knowles Harcourt Foundation and the Connecticut Community Foundation.