Deerfield officials worry as Tilton Library work costs climb

  • The Tilton Library in South Deerfield. FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 10/21/2021 7:56:01 PM

DEERFIELD — Tilton Library updated the public on the status of its renovation and expansion project Tuesday night as it expects to be awarded a $4 million grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) in July 2022.

While town officials at the meeting expressed their support for the project, they also had concerns about the potential impact of rising costs in construction materials.

Library Director Candace Bradbury-Carlin presented construction plans for Tilton Library and answered questions from Deerfield’s Select Board and Finance and Capital Improvements Planning committees.

Bradbury-Carlin said the renovated library would be accessible and safe for all members of the community to enjoy while offering state-of-the-art services that fit the needs of the 21st century.

“It’s been a long, thoughtful process,” Bradbury-Carlin said at the meeting. “All of this leads to a real chance for Deerfield to have a future-ready building that could be a model for the whole state.”

Members of the town boards at the meeting said they supported the concept of the renovated library and the services it could provide, but showed some concern about the cost of the project, which has increased since the application was submitted several years ago.

The project includes renovation and expansion of existing rooms, improved accessibility and energy efficiency upgrades.

Tilton Library was built in 1916 with money local grocer Chauncey B. Tilton left in his will, along with municipal and private contributions. The library, at 75 North Main St., has not had a major renovation since the 1990s, when a wheelchair-accessible lift and additional children’s room space was added. An update to the front steps for historical preservation purposes took place in 2011.

When Tilton Library’s grant application was approved in 2017, the project’s cost was estimated at approximately $8 million, but that price may have changed as construction materials have become more expensive as a result of the pandemic.

Bradbury-Carlin said she has not received a recent estimate on the price because the situation is so volatile. She estimated the project will become more expensive, but it is too early to tell.

“I asked them over the summer and they couldn’t tell me because things are changing so rapidly,” Bradbury-Carlin said by phone Wednesday. “My guess is it will maybe go up to $10 or $12 million, but I’m not in the building industry.”

The grant is fixed and cannot adjust to the new building costs, according to Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners building consultant Andrea Bono-Bunker. She added the state grant does not prevent the town from seeking more grants or alternative funding sources as long as the project stays within the application’s boundaries.

“Our grant award is static; it does not grow if the project grows,” Bono-Bunker said at the meeting. “You can certainly pursue other grants. … It’s not the end-all, be-all of grants that may be available.”

Although the price of materials has risen, Bono-Bunker said two projects awarded grants this summer did meet their target budget.

“In the past fiscal year,” Bono-Bunker said, “despite materials rising, we had two projects go out to bid this summer and they were both on target.”

Once the funding is awarded to Tilton Library, it will have six months to secure the rest of the project’s funding or risk losing the grant. The library has been seeking funding from members of the public and businesses in town, and has already received more than $700,000 toward a target of $2 million.

“If we’re not able to fund this program, we’ll have to start from scratch many years from now,” Bradbury-Carlin said. “We’re going to spend a lot of time building awareness in the community.”

Bradbury-Carlin said she envisions several public awareness campaigns as the final project funding will come down to a Town Meeting vote. The community will also be involved in the final design draft of the library as public input will be requested at several meetings.

“We want to make sure everyone has the same information,” Bradbury-Carlin said by phone. “We’re a pretty creative group, so I’m sure we’ll come up with some interesting things.”

The other main concern raised by officials was how the Tilton Library project fits into the puzzle of Deerfield’s municipal development, which features several large projects including the wastewater treatment plant, the South County Senior Center and the proposed North Main Street park.

Select Board member Trevor McDaniel said he doesn’t want residents to pit the different projects in town against each other.

“I don’t want people to think of these as competing projects,” McDaniel said. “We have not as a town tackled all the projects we needed to.”

The idea of joining the Senior Center with Tilton Library was brought up, but the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners grant forbids funding of shared-use spaces, which means the Senior Center could have programs at the library, but could not be based anywhere in the building.

“The program room for the library should be library first,” Bono-Bunker said. “That’s where it gets dicey with these facilities that have more than one function under their roof. … They would have to be separate spaces and they couldn’t be shared-use spaces. We do realize that with smaller towns it can be difficult to serve all members of the community.”

Bradbury-Carlin said she plans to collaborate with the Senior Center directly because it is “in the DNA” of a library to serve seniors.

“Let’s view ourselves as coming together,” she said. “It could serve seniors in so many ways and in the meantime the Senior Center could work on their project.”


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