NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — The surest sign yet that work is set to start on Narragansett’s new library came Friday in the form of golden shovels and hard hats.
Town officials who have spent years on efforts to open a library in the old Belmont Market donned the helmets and picked up the shovels in front of the vacant building for a ceremonial groundbreaking on Friday.
It marks the beginning of what’s forecast to be a year-long project to transform the building, which the town bought in 2018, into a new, more modern and spacious library in the heart of the pier.
Current Town Council members, all of whom support the work, took part in the event. On Oct. 17, the council voted unanimously to award the construction bid for the work to E.W. Burman, Inc. Burman executives also took part in the ceremony.
“I am so thrilled to be here today on this exciting day, after 12 years, to start the new library construction,” Council President Pro Tem Susan Cicilline Buonanno said. “We are finally going to bring this project to fruition, something that the residents of Narragansett have long wanted.”
Some of those residents, as well as library employees, director Patricia Arkwright and Library Board of Trustees members were on hand as well as members of the groups Friends of the Library and Love Your Library.
“There are so many people that have supported this project and we are so appreciative of their ability to wait out the politically-generated delays,” Library Board of Trustees President Laurie Kelly said. “Construction will begin promptly and with that we expect the opening of the new library to occur about a year from now.”
The groundbreaking, while ceremonial, also comes after the Rhode Island Office of Library and Information Services awarded more than $3.14 million toward the project.
The OLIS funding will be used to pay down a portion of the $5.8 million in bonds voters approved in 2016 for the project.
Kelly said that the immediate cost to the town would be about $2.65 million with the state aid included.
The board expects the project to cost $8.9 million in total. That includes the $2.4 million to purchase the building in 2018 and $6.5 million to construct and outfit a library in it.
Of the total, $5.8 million comes from the 2016 bond approved by voters, $1.1 million from cash donations, $500,000 cash on hand in library restricted funds and a $1.5 million “bridge loan” approved by the council. That loan proved controversial earlier this year.
The project also received a $400,000 Champlin Foundation grant and the Friends of the Narragansett Library group has given at least $50,000.
The library project has generated controversy for several years, with the previous Town Council in 2019 and 2020 making several moves to stop — or at least slow down — what its then majority saw is an ill-advised purchase by the town.
Those attempts led to heated meetings, with council members and library supporters yelling at each other and trading insults.
Those raucous meetings ended after the current council took over, and after voters again in 2020 reaffirmed their desire to use the $5.8 million in bonds they approved in 2016 on the library. The voters also blocked any potential sale.
Cicilline Buonanno on Friday singled out resident Rosalyn Sinclair, who provided financial backing when library supporters sued the previous council after it tried to sell the building.
“We would never have gotten this far without Roz Sinclair,” Cicilline Buonanno said.
Kelly said the project’s architectural firm, HBM of Cleveland, designs not only new libraries, but conversions of older buildings like the Belmont into libraries.
“That’s a skill in and of itself,” she said. “And we’re very thrilled Burman’s going to be doing the project construction. It’s local people who have followed this for years and years and are now going to help us finish everything we’ve dreamed about.”
Fundraising efforts continue for the library, Kelly said.
“There’s plenty of things you can put your family name on in the library,” she said.
Council President Jesse Pugh called the process leading to construction a long journey.
“If you look around the crowd, it’s really about the people of Narragansett,” he said. “So many faces here that have put in the effort and contributions, whether it’s time or money, or spreading the word to get the project moving.”
Councilor Patrick Murray drew an analogy from a quote by Mike Tyson.
“Going in everybody has a plan, until you get hit in the face,” he said, quoting the boxer.
“All supporters, everyone involved, not only got hit in the face, they got uppercuts, got kidney punches, got many rabbit punches, which is illegal in boxing. But in the end after 15 rounds, we’re here today.”