NARRAGANSETT – With a recently elected town council that supports a new public library in the Pier Marketplace, the project is moving forward briskly. The town and the library board, working collaboratively, have eyed a tentative March date to award the bid for the buildout of the 18,500-square-foot former Belmont building to serve as the new facility.
The extensive and wide-in-scope request for proposals (RFP) to complete the buildout was recently unanimously approved by the town council. The town is asking firms to include design, permitting, cost estimation and applicable reimbursement planning in their proposals. The document tentatively states that the bid could be awarded after the solicitation process by as early as March 2021.
“This document really reflects the town and the library working together,” said Narragansett Town Council President Pro Tem Susan Cicilline Buonanno. “We had some meetings. I think we ended up with a really comprehensive document that’s going to work well and it shows a partnership. I think this partnership is a step in the right direction for working together and collaboratively moving forward. I want to thank everybody who worked on it. I know it was fast and furious but it is important work and I look forward to seeing what kind of bids will come in for this.”
The RFP, which outlines a “modern and functional public library for the future,” was drafted involving input from the library board of trustees, the town’s engineering department, the town solicitor’s office and the town’s bond counsel, among other town staff. One of the stated goals of the document is to “create a library that is a destination, community anchor and intellectual center of the Town of Narragansett.”
Many, including council members, believe the work is long overdue. With library patronage and operations outgrowing the current, approximately 9,000-square-foot Maury Loontjens Memorial Library on Kingstown Road, as well as the current building being out of compliance with fire and Americans-with-Disabilities-Act codes, the need for an upgrade to the library has been pressing.
The Narragansett electorate largely approved a $5.8 million bond referendum for a new library in 2016. In 2018, the town council finalized the $2.4 million purchase of the former Belmont space, among other nearby property, in the Pier Marketplace to house the new facility. However, on a fiscal and logistical basis, a majority on the previous town council opposed the move, consistently blocking steps, such as the drafting of an RFP necessary for the project’s realization.
“We’re very happy from the library side to be working with the town on this and we finally got the RFP out because of the history of the project when the bond was out in 2016,” said library board of trustees chair Laurie Kelly. “Thank you to the council for taking this on so quickly and supporting the library and we look forward to the work to come.”
The RFP, among a vast amount of information that will define the buildout of the new library, identifies the changing role of such a facility in the 21st Century.
“Over the years, the definition of a library has changed, and the Board wishes to encompass all current and future uses in our new library building design,” the document reads. “While in the past, the primary use was the circulation of physical books, the modern library patron comes to use library computers, to access free WiFi on their own devices and to work and study individually as well as in small groups. These uses necessitate additional space. In addition, we have a highly educated, engaged population, who use our extensive resource databases and demand programming on many different subjects.”
In addition to requiring information and details as to specific buildout components of the space, such as plumbing, electrical, heating, air conditioning, air/ventilation, fire alarm and fire suppression, roof, windows, doors, walls, sidewalks and parking, the RFP also notes a need to adhere to environmentally-sound practices and regulations and requirements from the state’s Office of Library and Information Services, which could result in reimbursement for the project up to 50 percent. Finally, in the time of the pandemic, the document also outlines the need to present options that would comply with health and safety protocols around COVID-19 such as safe distancing and air flow.
Solicitation of bids for the project is limited to four firms based on qualification statements received from the businesses by the library board in May. As per the requirements of being awarded the project, the winning firm must agree to regular meetings with the library board and town staff, as well as a number of public meetings.
$2.4 million in bonds will be issued to cover the 2018 purchase of the Pier Marketplace property, which was originally paid for out of the town’s general fund. According to town documents, the remaining $3.4 in bond funds will be issued to cover buildout costs. Fundraising by the library for the project has also resulted in about $1.5 million in endowments and donations to cover the building costs as well as future operating costs of the new library.