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Library dominates capital plan talk

Suffolk City Council honed in on the need for a new downtown library during its Wednesday work session that focused heavily on the proposed $963.6 million Capital Improvements Program and Plan.

The proposal, an increase of $66.1 million from last year’s approved CIP, provides a 10-year outline for fiscal years 2020 through 2029 on city spending on major capital projects. The plan is updated yearly.

The first five years of the proposed CIP, at $316.4 million, is an increase of $30.8 million over the first five years of the FY 2019-2028 plan. In the first five years of the proposed CIP, 47 percent of money would be spent on transportation projects, while public schools (16 percent), public buildings and facilities (15 percent) and public safety projects (13 percent) would make up another 44 percent, with another 5 percent going toward parks and recreation projects and 4 percent toward village and neighborhood issues.

Waller, Todd and Sadler Architects in January presented plans for a 45,305-square-foot, $21.1 million library to go on West Washington Street to eventually replace the existing 14,500-square-foot Morgan Memorial Library, located across from City Hall.

The project would provide for the design and construction of a new central library, with the proposed CIP calling for $1.9 million to be spent for its design in fiscal year 2020, an additional $11.6 million to be spent in year two, $4.1 million in the third year and another $3.6 million in the fourth year of the proposed CIP.

Several council members, while expressing support for a new downtown library, had concerns about its cost and size.

Councilman Mike Duman said he had no issues with pursuing a new downtown library, but wondered whether some other improvements throughout downtown, like sidewalk upgrades, that would attract retail customers and private investment would be a better use of funds first.

Councilmen Tim Johnson, Roger Fawcett and Donald Goldberg also said they would like to see a lower cost for a new downtown library.

“I look at the library and I support a new library downtown 100 percent,” Johnson said. “But I’m kind of like Mr. Duman in a way because I want to see this initial $2 million, but I don’t want us to be throwing $2 million away. We need to figure out what we want for the library.”

Fawcett said the city needs to consider a less expensive library and put the rest of the money toward other vital city projects. He said residents in his Sleepy Hole Borough and those around the city are skeptical about spending as much as has been proposed.

“The first thing they ask me is ‘What are you going to build for that kind of money, 50,000 square foot,’” Fawcett said. “That’s huge. That’s monumental. So I think that we need to take a look at this footprint and see if we can better shape the footprint, at (a lower) dollar rate. Because the library alone is not going to be the gateway through here, and it’s not going to change the revitalization process totally in this downtown until we fix some things that are completely out of whack here.”

Mayor Linda Johnson and Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett said they support a new downtown library.

“This is something that I know that has been needed for a long, long time,” Bennett said.

Said the mayor: “I believe that it is a big starter for downtown. I think it would bring people down here.”

The mayor said she’s also heard from many residents with children who want to have a new library.

“We need that library downtown, and we need it for all ages and generations, and we need it for everybody,” the mayor said.