Library officials point out risk of plans ‘falling apart’ with delay
NEW CANAAN — The finance board suggested last week that the town should loan money for the new library project in addition to the previously agreed upon $10 million grant. Some members of the board wanted to research alternatives.
Paul Stone, a consultant for the library, said he feared subcontractors would start working on other projects if there was a further delay on the $38.5 million project, while the Board of Finance researched options. He said he just wanted a promise for the original grant request.
Library officials had wanted to start the 42,642 square-foot new building in June, but the timetable was pushed back due to a Planning and Zoning Commission decision. Now, they hope to get shovel in the ground by September.
“Hearing these other options at play here would put the project at risk for further delay and at further risk of losing the contractor, the subcontractors and everything else that has been teed up. The clock is ticking with this new twist,” Stone, COO of Karp Associates said. He pointed out that the grant money could be attained much more quickly than going through other options.
Chairman Todd Lavieri said that if there is a way to save taxpayers money, they should look at it. He also said that and that no vote would be taken until this week at the earliest. Since, a special meeting has been set for this week.
“We are now coming to the point where we need to make decisions with respect to this grant of $10 million because it has implications in respect to moving this project forward,” Chairman of the Board of Directors Robert Butman told the finance board.
To explain the financial alternatives the town could tender, CFO Lunda Asmani introduced the town’s Bond Counsel, Sandra Dawson of Pullman & Comley.
Dawson explained the town could offer short-term financing “similar to a bonding issue” and “the library would be responsible for paying back that funding” in the range of $7 million above the $10 million grant.
The library would be asked to pay back the town as they would Bankwell, but the town loan would cost closer to one percent in financing, rather than the four percent with the bank.
Butman said he worried about the “public opinion” if the library were to receive any more money from the town than the $10 million requested through the grant. He agreed to be open to discussion, but “would like to decouple that from the grant itself.”
Earlier in the evening, the finance board had met in an executive session to discuss the appeal that the New Canaan Preservation Alliance filed with the state Superior Court to overturn the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission’s approval.
Though the finance board made little mention regarding the effort to save the 1913 library in situ, the appeal was raised in connection with concerns about risk.
In the agreement with Bankwell to loan money, at the time of the funding, the bank “will have the ability to do another risk assessment and determine whether they are going to actually fund the money depending on the status of the lawsuit,” Butman said. “That is something we can live with.”
Board member Chris Le Bris raised concerns over Bankwell’s desire for another risk assessment at the time of funding. “That is a serious reservation on the part of the bank” and “borrowers would walk away,” he said as he noted that he had worked in commercial banking for decades.
While the finance board wanted to discuss the options further, Stone pushed back. “There has already been price escalation, particularly materials escalation, and they are holding fast now the longer this delays the greater the risk of this falling apart, that is not theoretical it is a real threat,” Stone said.“If we get a shovel in the ground we can start fundraising as well.”
Lavieri pushed back: “If we have another way of working capital” it is “something we ought to look at.”
Finance board member Thomas Schulte raised other concerns. “I was always working under the impression the town’s commitment to provide grant funding” would “never, never exist at a point of time where there wasn’t live committed sources of funding,” to complete the project.
To date, the library has raised over $17 million from 250 families for the new building, which is planned to have spaces for “experiential learning” with a teaching kitchen, co-working areas. a large living room with a fireplace and a business center.