State Bond Commission Approves $1M Grant for Blackstone Library

With PermissionFor Blackstone Library leaders, Friday was one of those great days. In the morning, Library Director Karen Jensen and Blackstone Board Chair Andy McKirdy were on hand in Hartford with State Rep. Lonnie Reed (pictured) when the State Bond Commission formally approved a $1 million library construction grant.

Bill O'Brien PhotoIn the afternoon, they were back at the Blackstone to announce that individual donations to the library’s capital campaign reached the amount needed to qualify for the Branford Community Foundation’s (BCF) match of $100,000. The $100,000 grant, to be distributed over four years, is the largest single contribution to an organization in the history of the BCF.

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

In an interview from Hartford, Reed said, “It took a while for that to happen, and given our budget crisis, I was fearful. But we were able to explain that the money will help fund an addition that provides spaces and hosts programs designed for children, teens and young adults, many of whom can walk to the library. I am grateful to the Bond commission for recognizing the need.”

In January, the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) voted to approve bonding for the town’s share of the project.  This vote was necessary in order to qualify for the $1 million grant from the State Library. The State Historic Preservation Office has approved the project design, and the State Bond Commission voted to approve the funding yesterday. With Bond Commission approval, the project will move forward to the bidding phase. The project architect is Silver, Petrucelli & Associates; Downes Construction is the construction manager.

While the RTM vote was on bonding a $5.2 million renovation, the actual cost to town residents is about $3.4 million because of the $1 million state grant. Another $686,000 had been raised by residents and businesses.

BCF Grant

“The match to the BCF grant was achieved more quickly than anticipated, due to the generosity of the Branford community,” Jensen said in a prepared statement. “The match stipulated that donations from individuals up to $1,000 would be matched 100%, up to a total of $100,000. Over 600 individuals stepped up with donations of all amounts ranging from $10 to $1000.”

Liza Petra, BCF executive director, said, “The Branford Community Foundation is thrilled to be able to leverage this support in order to provide a meaningful impact on the campaign and the community.” 

Some RTM Republican members voiced opposition to the project, saying they were concerned about additional taxes.

Kendall F. Wiggin, the state librarian, came to the RTM meeting to say why the Blackstone deserved the $1 million grant.

“We have a lot of competition for grants,” he said. “We must weigh the needs of the entire state. The Blackstone needs to become a 21st century library.” He said the community of Branford cares about “the kids in this town,” adding that the kids and teens need to have a “welcoming and accessible space…. It is just not about books.” He said the state library board was impressed “with this project.”

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