Who knows how much state money will trickle into the town budget this year? By most predictions, it won’t be much. So, with the waste water treatment project looming, this might not be the best time to talk about repairing a crumbling library. But Councilor Ed Pocock III brought it up at the Feb. 27 council meeting saying, “I want it to be understood that the library is something that is very important to me.” Then he listed the reasons against it. That got our attention.
The way the town has treated its library is like an irresponsible child that ignores the ‘check engine’ light on his car. Most will agree that the local library is a crumbling mess. At their mid-February meeting, the library board talked about a flood in the boiler room in late January, a new leak in their roof, and a sump pump repair when a PVC pipe broke in the basement. These aren’t the symptoms of a healthy building.
This isn’t a new problem, and it wasn’t inherited by rookie town leaders. Most of today’s councilors—on both sides of the aisle—have been serving for a while. Both parties have been in charge at various times since the library was built. Over the last half century, everyone has had a chance to do something. We understand that this might not be the right time to embrace a capital project, but when is the right time? We credit Pocock for at least being willing to talk about it.
The current library was built in the 1970s, and it really hasn’t seen much improvement since that time. Even when it was built, it wasn’t the envy of many towns, but it was a step up from the tiny hut across the street (today’s Historical Society building). Now, officials tell us that it is one of the smallest libraries per capita in the state.
According to the Connecticut Division of Library Development, Southington is similar in population to Middletown, Enfield, Shelton, and Wallingford, but each of those towns has—per capita—bigger buildings, more employees, and bigger budgets for materials. Middletown champions Russell Library as “a gateway to the future of Middletown.” By that measure, the gateway to Southington’s future looks pretty grim.
Since the “new” library opened, the high school (which was built in the same era) has had two major additions. Both middle schools have been completely renovated. An elementary school was transformed into a municipal building, and a special education center was attached to Hatton School. The record shows that the town is committed to its schools, but the same can’t be said for the library. It’s pretty clear that the library isn’t at the top of anyone’s priority list—no matter what is said. Even Pocock admitted to promising parents at three different schools that he’d address their needs first.
We understand that leaders are facing difficult decisions, but the town’s record has always been poor when it comes to being proactive. Parts of the waste water facility weren’t upgraded in more than 50 years, so it’s not surprising that it took $57 million when they finally got around to it. Mulberry Street had to be almost impassable before crews got to work. By the time renovations were undertaken at the middle schools, the project needed two referendums to get all the money to complete it. Some of the town’s sewer lines still include outdated, clay pipes.
It’s true that state spending has spiraled out of control, and budget constraints make capital improvements hard to embrace, but the town’s history of procrastination is at least partly to blame. Ignoring a problem won’t make it go away.