| Debbie Gardner
SPRINGFIELD – A new branch library for the East Forest Park section of Springfield came one step closer to reality July 13, when the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) approved the Springfield City Library’s application for a $4.9 million construction grant – about half the cost the project.
“The remainder will be a combination of public funding – which will be city funded– and private funding through a capital campaign,” Molly Fogarty, director, Springfield Public Libraries, told Reminder Publications in an interview prior to the grant announcement.
Fogarty said receipt of the construction grant would represent the second step in a process that began shortly after the EF3 tornado tore through the East Forest Park neighborhood on June 1, 2011. She said during subsequent planning and reassessments that took place for neighborhood reconstruction, “one significant outcome was that a new branch [library] in East Forest Park would be an asset to the community.”
The current East Forest Park Library occupies a modest storefront on Island Pond Road where it shares a parking lot with the Rite Aid Pharmacy, Advance Auto Parts, Bank of America and Nathan Bill’s restaurant.
Fogarty said the Springfield Libraries had previously applied for – and received – a $50,000 planning and site grant from the MLBC during the 2014 grant cycle.
“That was used to hire an architect to do a schematic of the new library,” she said.
Prior to developing that rendering, Fogarty said the library had worked with the East Forest Park Civic Association to determine the needs of the community and receive recommendations for the best placement of the new facility.
“And the Mary Dryden School became the best site,” Fogarty said. “It’s flat, and there’s area for a 17,000 square-foot library with parking.”
She added the architect took members of the East Forest Park Civic Association on a bus tour of several new libraries before developing his rendering for the new branch.
Current plans call for siting the new library on property closest to Surrey Road. The new building is to include “a common room that seats 100, a café, a children’s room, teen zone, a really nice adult area and three small individual rooms that can accommodate four to six people for small projects,” Fogarty said. “We hope to have – between the children’s computer, teen computers and adult computers – 15 [stations] and a collection of about 30,000 items.”
She added, “This branch will be a model for the future. It will help bring our city into the 21st century by providing access to modern technology and learning spaces. This kind of access is especially crucial for students who do not have internet or technology access at home – they will be able to keep up with their academic peers.”
A capital campaign to help raise an additional $2 million to complete the project would be conducted by the Springfield Library Foundation, Fogarty said.
Charlie Ryan, former Springfield Mayor and vice president of the Foundation board, said, “The Foundation is excited to support this project and provide ongoing support for the Library as we move into the future. This coordinated effort shows that when state, municipal, and private support comes together, great things can happen.”
Mayor Domenic Sarno said, “This new library branch is a key part of revitalizing the City, as well as the East Forest Park neighborhood.”
Funding for the East Forest Park project was one of nine awards made to libraries across the state – including the Goodwin Memorial Library in Hadley – during this grant round, totaling $67 million in support for construction in 2017. An additional 24 libraries were placed on a waiting list for the next grant approvals.