The City Council will hold a public hearing Monday, February 7 at 7:30 p.m. in the council chambers on a proposed ordinance to bond $800,000 to buy and start renovations on the former YMCA property. A separate resolution would authorize City Manager Alan Bergren to negotiate a purchase price with the Chelsea Groton Bank. The price listed in the resolution is $425,000. The total cost of the renovations is expected to total $3 million. No votes can be taken Monday, as the council awaits a recommendation from the Commission on the City Plan.
It is extremely important that the public attends and participates in these discussions. Past meetings devoted in large part to the purchase and renovation of the YMCA have been poorly attended, and were certainly not fully representative of the Norwich community. A proposal of this magnitude deserves serious public discourse by parties on both sides of the issue.
Over the last few weeks there has been extensive coverage of the proposed reuse of the former YMCA building as a “community center”, including today’s report of extensive vandalism only recently discovered. In considering the proposed measures, let us keep in mind that Otis Library is a community center. It provides free meeting space for community organizations, sponsors and promotes a wide variety of programs for all ages, serves as the most active regional site for Literacy Volunteers, and is one of the few forums in the city of Norwich where people of diverse backgrounds gather in a common space. It is not a recreational facility, and there is no question that such a facility would be a community asset. That said, before embarking on another project it seems sensible to ensure the long-term support and stability of an existing, heavily used asset currently providing essential community centered services. That entity is the Otis Library.