With an informational session on Monday night, the Southington Public Library sort of unofficially “launched” their efforts toward a long-anticipated building expansion. We’ve heard rumors about it for years, but it looks like the push is finally on. Officials are hopeful that a referendum could come as early as 2020. We think that it’s about time.
Southington has never really embraced its library—no matter what politicians say during election years. The town has always treated the library like an afterthought. Even if a referendum passes in 2020, it’s about two decades too late. Still, it’s better late than never.
Southington has always been hesitant to invest in its library. Most of today’s councilors—on both sides of the aisle—have been kicking the can down the road for years. 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, and nobody’s done anything. We urge town leaders to finally commit to this structure that was expected to be too small by the turn of the century and has been crumbling and leaking for years. Please.
The current library seemed to be shrouded under a cloud of bad luck and disinterest right from the start. In the spring of 1974, the construction project came to a screeching halt when owners of J&A Construction Co. were arrested for financial improprieties. The contractor job went back out to bid by early May, and town leaders immediately began slashing the library budget—perhaps to counter the $650,000 price tag on its construction.
The town manager kicked it off, hatcheting $20,000 from the 1974 operating budget ($150,000), and the board of finance cut another $30,000 (totalling one third of the overall operating budget). While the last “expansion” was stalled, town leaders cut the salary of the head librarian, wages for five part-time assistants, book bindings, supplies, expenses, $10,000 revenue sharing for new books and recordings, periodicals and audio visual materials. The following year, they went back to work, slashing two library assistants and some custodial positions just in time for the grand opening on May 29, 1975 and the official dedication on June 21, 1975—almost a year later than expected. Not much has changed.
Even when it opened, the library wasn’t the envy of many towns, but it was certainly a step up from the tiny hut across the street (today’s Historical Society building). The “new” library was predicted to be big enough to last until the year 2000 (and that was based on growth models before the population explosion in the 1970s and 1980s.) According to the Connecticut Division of Library Development, it is currently one of the smallest libraries per capita in the state.
Since the “new” library opened, the high school (which was also constructed in 1974) 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 town is surely committed to its school and government buildings, but the same can’t be said for the library.
We charge town officials to figure this out and get it done. Stop in the library any time of day, any day of the week, and you’ll see a staff that’s committed to a wide-array of community activities and resources despite its threadbare budget. If Southington’s board of education could stretch their money as far as the library does, the schools would want for nothing.
We understand that leaders face difficult decisions, but the town’s record has always been poor when it comes to investing in its library. We urge leaders to finally commit to it.
To comment on this story or to contact Southington Observer editor John Goralski, email him at JGoralski@SouthingtonObserver.com.