For the first time in five years, Massachusetts is offering financial help to build new public libraries. Demand for the money is expected to be high.
The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners is making up to $110 million available this year to communities across the state that are looking for help to build brand new libraries or make significant upgrades to existing facilities.
In 2012, the last time the state offered financial help for library construction, the commission received 30 grant applications. At least that many are expected this time. The city of Springfield will apply for a grant to help pay for a new state-of-the-art branch library in the East Forest Park Neighborhood.
"The community has been looking for a new library since the 1950's," said City Library Director Molly Fogarty .
She said the neighborhood is underserved by a branch library located in a leased storefront in a small shopping plaza.
The proposed new branch library would be 16,800 square feet – four times the size of the current space – and would include room for a community center, which the neighborhood lacks.
City Councilor Tim Rooke has raised concerns about the estimated cost, saying $9.5 million “seems excessive.”
"Why does the wealthiest neighborhood in the city need a branch library when libraries in other neighborhoods where kids need more help are not open enough hours?" asked Rooke.
But other city councilors have praised the project. Councilor Tim Allen said a new library for the neighborhood was identified as a top priority following the 2011 tornado.
"People were asked as we rebuild the city,' What would you like?' and they said a better library," said Allen.
The new branch library is planned for part of the grounds of the Mary Dryden School on Surrey Road. The elementary school was damaged by the tornado and subsequently repaired. It would be just down the street from Pope Francis High School. The new regional Catholic high school is under construction on the site of the former Cathedral High School building that was destroyed by the tornado.
"It is a great project for the neighborhood," said Allen. " People will be avid supporters of it."
The deadline for applying for grants from the library commission is January 26. The grants will be announced in July.