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Library commitment could cost Fitchburg

Paul Snyder

If Fitchburg locks in a tentatively scheduled library opening date of Jan. 1, 2011, the city might have to cover most of the estimated $14 million construction price tag.

That prospect already is jangling the nerves of some city leaders.

“People have been telling me we’re out of our gourds to build a library right now,” said Alderman Darren Stucker.

Yet the Common Council approved construction of the library and is interviewing architects and reviewing proposals from construction managers. The city also committed $10 million in city bonds to help pay for construction costs, and Fitchburg’s Library Board has promised to raise $3 million.

It received a $1 million contribution from Bill Linton, founder of Fitchburg-based Promega Corp., and his wife, Mary, but the board has yet to start the campaign for the remaining money.

“Up until now there was no solid commitment from the city,” said Library Board Treasurer Phil Sveum. “I’d expect we’ll have a plan within the next 30 days.”

Concerns about raising money in a difficult economy are understandable, said Library Board President Jayne Kuehn, but there are factors working to the city’s advantage.

“We understand that because of the economy, a lot of construction bids are coming in as much as 20 percent under estimates,” she said. “If we can get that, that’s 20 percent less fundraising.”

If the Library Board cannot raise the money in time for the project, the city would have to decide whether it will proceed and cover the remainder of the cost. Fitchburg Mayor Jay Allen said it is a discussion he will soon have with the Common Council.

“We don’t have that much laying around,” he said. “So we would have to go out and borrow that money, and whether the council is comfortable with that, I don’t know.”

The Fitchburg Fire Department recently warned the Common Council the department could soon need two new fire stations, Stucker said. He said a tug of war for city money between library services and public safety could erupt at City Hall.

But with the city committed to finding an architect and construction manager for the library project, Kuehn said, she’s comfortable with the level of commitment Fitchburg is showing.

“We’re in a lot better place than we were a few months ago,” she said. “As long as we’re moving forward, I’m happy.”

Stucker said the debate over the project will continue as long as there is a possibility the city might have to increase borrowing in tough economic times.

“My fear is that people think this is a done deal,” he said. “It isn’t.”

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