CHICOPEE — The City Council approved funding for the reuse of the former central library building during a special meeting on Jan. 30.
The City Council agreed to increase the bond authorization of this project by $1.75 million, use $2.1 million from the Stabilization fund and create a former central library commission for the project.
The building that has sat vacant for 20 years might finally have a path to being used again.
Right now, the building needs many repairs to be viable to be used.
Planning Director Lee Pouliot and Mayor John Vieau presented a plan and potential source of funding to revive the former central library building.
Vieau said, “Its taken us quite a journey to get us where we are. The goal has been since being a member of the City Council to mayor, to find a way to get some activity and reactivate the central library.”
The proposed use of the building is a community space for evening meetings, offices for the Cultural Council, offices for the Commission on Disability, use for small business programs, along with helping address city space issues.
The original library was funded in 1853 and built in 1913 and has been designated as a historic building.
In 2004 the library expanded and moved to 449 Front St. leaving the former central library building vacant since then.
The building has sat idle due to it not being ADA accessible and in need of capital improvements like a new roof.
“To be clear, even if we were able to replace the roof, now or any year prior to this, it wouldn’t give us a building that we could occupy and utilize in any way shape or form. It would still be inaccessible, and we still wouldn’t have any of the systems that we need,” Pouliot added.
An assessment was done to repair the roof, provide ADA compliance and overall make the building usable.
Pouliot added that construction includes adding an elevator, replacing the roof, fixing and adding new mechanical systems, life safety systems, security and fire suppression and upgrading the limited electricity.
“A majority of the costs are tied up in the bare minimum so the building commissioner would be allowed to issue a certificate of occupancy for this building to be occupied,” Pouliot added.
The estimated cost of the project is approximately $10.7 million including the lowest bid the project received, an Owner’s Project Manager, architect, independent material testing and contingencies.
Anticipated funding sources included remaining American Rescue Plan Act funds, a state legislature earmark for $500,000 and bonding that was already allocated.
In 2019, a bond authorization was approved by the City Council in the amount of $750,000 to repair the leaking roof, but the ADA compliance was not included in the estimate.
There was also $3.5 million in ARPA funds set aside for the project with only approximately $824,000 of it being used for assessment and design work.
The total anticipated funding sources is $3.9 million, bringing the total balance remaining to $6.8 million.
The three potential sources of funding to complete the project included additional ARPA funding, the Stabilization fund and/or bonding.
With the City Council approving the stabilization fund and additional bond authorization, Pouliot said a request has gone to the ARPA Committee that they will discuss on Feb. 6.
The request asks for an additional $3.2 million in ARPA funds.
The City Council voiced few concerns with the project and unanimously approved funding this project.
Ward 2 City Councilor Shane Brooks said, “For me this is money well spent. It’s an investment in the community. This could be a legacy project for the city to really create a space for a multi-use function and allows us to address some of the challenges that has plagued the downtown.”
Cultural Council Chair Charles Laboy discussed how this project can help the Cultural Council but also Chicopee.
He said, “I believe having a facility like this would offer a great opportunity for the Chicopee Cultural Council in particular to be able to connect with our residents and constituents. Having a space like this will allow all those opportunities for the arts to really breathe into Chicopee.”
Pouliot said the project is anticipated to be a 10-month construction project with another two months being for closeout with early 2025 being a potential time for this building to be usable.