Revitalizing West Hartford….a few thoughts

The heart of West Hartford is the river crossing at the north end of the Quechee – West Hartford Road. In its heyday during the early 20th century, West Hartford Main Street – as Route 14 was known – had homes and stores up and down the river in this area, including a hotel.


In the massive flood of 1927, which was slightly larger than the flood of 2011, a large number of these homes and businesses were destroyed. They were never rebuilt. One of the destroyed buildings was the West Hartford Public Library, which was located along the river opposite the church.


A group of citizens in Hartford, Connecticut, donated money and time to restore a library to West Hartford. Money was raised to purchase land and erect a kit house from Sears. Unfortunately, the return of the library failed to stimulate the return of the thriving village that had previously existed.


Fast forward to the 21st century. The West Hartford Public Library is one of three public libraries in the town of Hartford; it is the only one owned by the town. The other two public libraries are operated by non-profit library associations. The libraries are obligated to report statistics to the state library department each year.


Based on these statistics, it costs the town of Hartford $8.58 per item circulated to operate the West Hartford Public Library. It costs the town $3.11 per item for the Quechee Public Library, which also operated the Wilder Clubhouse Library. It costs the town $3.74 per item circulated to operate the Hartford Village Public Library.


This is based on stats from 2009-2010; since then the WHPL budget has gone up another 5K and now stands close to 50K per year. Assuming a new library building is built and the entire 500K bond is used, the debt service on the bond will be in the neighborhood of 25K per year, meaning that the town will be spending about 75K per year delivering library services in West Hartford.


This for a population of about 700 that accounts for around $300K in town tax revenue. It is entirely out of proportion, and there is a better way – several better ways – to deliver library services to this part of town.


First, the Wilder model shows us that it is possible to deliver high quality library services on a satellite office type approach for around $1400 per weekly hour opened per year – around $28K to provide 20 hours a week. All that is needed is space in a building – only around 800 square feet, possibly less.. Finding a way to do this in West Hartford would cut the per-item average to around $4.50, and free up another 20K to put toward a similar arrangement in White River Junction. In other words, the entire town could see a rapid improvement in library services immediately, without having to spend large sums or waiting for a building to be constructed.


The real benefit to this approach would be to provide breathing room for the town to carefully examine the question of what can be done to stimulate economic growth in West Hartford. That may well involve the town making an investment in a multipurpose building.


I campaigned on promises to deliver library services to West Hartford, and to see to it that we spent out money carefully. Library services should already be being delivered in W Hartford via the Wilder model, at some temporary location. Spending $750,000 and forgoing FEMA mitigation funds, however, is not spending carefully. I oppose that.

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