Library Renovations Delayed; New Bids Requested

With permissionRenovations at the Blackstone Memorial Library will be delayed while re-bidding takes place in three areas of the project that came in about $500,000 over budget. The other 14 construction bid packages came in at or under budget, and will not be re-bid.

The renovation and expansion project was slated to begin in September. The total cost is $5.2 million, but the actual cost to the town is about $3.4 million because of the $1 million State Library grant and another $800,000 in capital campaign donations.

Photo by Diana StrickerLibrary Director Karen Jensen; Mike MacDonald, construction manager of Downes Construction Co. LLC; and Robin Sandler, president of the library’s board of trustees, gave an update on the project at Monday’s meeting of the Board of Finance (BOF).

“We’re cautiously optimistic that when the bids come in Oct. 16, they’ll be more favorable than the ones that came in last time,” Sandler said.

He said the library’s building committee met with the town and the consultants, and decided to re-bid three of the areas that were over budget – site work, drywall and plaster, and architectural millwork.

Sandler, who recently resigned from the Representative Town Meeting (RTM), told the Eagle he made that decision so he could devote more time to the library.

First Selectman Jamie Cosgrove said the town cannot award contracts that are higher than the appropriation that has already been approved.

“We understand that,” Sandler said. “We recognize and realize that we only have so much money and we will work within the monies that are allocated to us by the RTM and the Board of Finance.”

Sandler said the $1 million State Library grant will not be affected by the delay, and they have been keeping the state informed of the status.

“On Target”

Some good news came from Library Director Jensen regarding the capital campaign. She said donations tally more than $720,000 toward their goal of $800,000.

“We sent out a town-wide mailing and we’ve been getting a great response from that,” Jensen said. “So I think we’re on target to hit our $800,000 goal.”

The donations include a $100,000 grant from the Branford Community Foundation, which is the largest single contribution to an organization in the foundation’s history.

Photo by Diana StrickerThe BOF unanimously approved the bonding in December 2017.

The RTM voted in January to approve bonding for the project after residents voiced strong approval for the project. The vote was 15-11 with all Democrats and a number of Republicans voting in favor of the project.

The State Bond Commission formally approved the $1 million library construction grant in April. State Rep. Lonnie Reed (D-Branford) and former State Rep. Pat Widlitz (D-Guilford/Branford) were instrumental in getting the $1 million construction grant a few years ago, contingent upon the library raising additional funds for the project.

Bidding Factors

MacDonald, the construction manager, said 14 of the 17 bid packages came in below or close to the estimated budget. “We have some good bids from some very good firms.”
However, he said the three areas being re-bid received only one or two responses in the first bidding round.

“It’s inevitable when you don’t get a lot of bids, you don’t get very competitive pricing,” MacDonald said.

He said other factors can affect bidding, including the small scope of some of the construction bid packages. “The main difficulty we have with a project of this scale is the individual packages are not very large, and we have a prevailing wage requirement,” he said.

MacDonald said alternates to some phases of the project were included in the planning stages. For example, three alternates were suggested for the exterior stonework for the addition that is slated to use Tennessee marble from the quarry that supplied the original stonework for the library. “The committee still has those options on the table,” he said.

A 21st Century Library

The renovation and expansion project was driven by four major challenges – the children’s and teens’ areas are not adequate; there are only 21 public computers; meeting space is limited; and the rear entrance is not as functional as it could be. Most of the exterior changes will be to the rear of the building.

The project is slated to bring the iconic library into the 21st century.

The proposed 2,000-square-foot addition will feature a covered walkway and entrance from the rear parking lot, a lobby, a circulation desk, and new restrooms. The roof of the addition will serve as a terrace, which can be accessed from the first-floor auditorium. It will be open to the public and used for special events.

A major interior change will involve moving the children’s services from the top floor to the ground floor to provide better access. There will also be space for teen activities. A family bathroom will be included in the children’s area, and bathrooms will also be added on the first floor.

The library’s distinctive front entrance and steps will remain the same.

Construction is slated to take about one year and will occur in phases so the library can remain open.

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