Pleas to help with renovations at Bethlehem library branch bear fruit

Posted: 12:54 AM EDT Oct 17, 2012

Public pressure persuaded Bethlehem officials to consider writing a bigger check for a proposed half-million dollar renovation project at the Bethlehem Area Public Library's South Side branch.

Council held a public hearing Tuesday night on plans for an expected $956,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant money and about $98,000 of leftover funds from this year. After listening to nine people speak in favor of more funding for the library renovation project, council members appeared inclined to increase a proposed $10,000 grant to as much as $38,000 -- the limit council rules allow -- when they vote on matter on Nov. 7.

Library executive director Janet Fricker told council all but the final $75,000 to $80,000 of the renovation cost has been raised by soliciting private donations, applying for grants, and holding fund-raisers. The CDBG money could help pay for the door and ramp to an exterior entrance for the physically challenged, she said

Council member Karen Dolan said the CDBG money could be made in the form of a challenge -- that the city would match contributions dollar for dollar, up to perhaps $38,000, which would almost close the library's remaining funding gap.

Last week, a council committee trimmed two other CDBG funding requests by $5,000 each to come up with a $10,000 allocation for the library renovation. One of the requests that was cut would establish a new Employer Assisted Housing Program aimed at helping certain city employees buy homes in Bethlehem. The committee dropped funding for the program from $30,000 to $25,000.

Council member David DiGiacinto said at the committee meeting that he had reservations about the program, and Tuesday night, he said he's still not convinced it's a good idea.

Council member J. Williams Reynolds differed with DiGiacinto, saying the program may help city workers who live elsewhere to relocate to Bethlehem and make them feel "invested" in the city.

Dana Grubb, a former city worker, said dedicating public money to public employees who may not even live in Bethlehem is an invitation to "cronyism" and "a huge waste of limited resources." The money would be better spent on the library renovation, he added. That sentiment was echoed by other speakers.

Several of them also pointed out that the South Side branch is more than just a library. Bethlehem Area School Board member Aurea Ortiz said it is "a safe place for children to do their homework," and gives people access to computers so they can fill out employment and housing applications.

The library's director of development, Lisa Holzinger, said the renovations are the first in the library branch's 82 years. "We have outgrown the original furniture," she said, noting that the library is expanding services because other agencies have curtailed their activities.