Library Trustees discuss broadband funding

May apply for Champlin Foundation Grant
Fri, 03/30/2018 - 8:30am

Now that the Town of New Shoreham is moving forward with installing a fiber optic broadband network to connect its Community Anchor Institutions the question facing each of those institutions is how those connections will be funded. One of those institutions is the Island Free Library. 

The town’s anchor institutions include the Block Island School, Block Island Medical Center, New Shoreham Police Department, Town Hall and the library. On Feb. 21, the Town Council recently approved the connection of those institutions by the start of the school year in September 2018. 

The Island Free Library’s Board of Trustees discussed the question of funding the connection at its meeting on March 20 when Trustee Lisa Nolan conveyed a message from Chair Shirlyne Gobern. Gobern was absent from the meeting. In referencing Gobern’s message, Nolan said Library Director Kristin Baumann informed the New Shoreham Broadband Committee that the library had $35,000 available to fund its connection to “a fiber build.” Nolan then asked Baumann where the funding would be coming from.

Baumann said she said that at the Broadband Committee’s Oct. 19 meeting “to encourage” the Committee to keep moving forward with the CAI project. “We work with a very heavily funded Friends group that could write that check, and would be willing to do so. I’m not worried about finding that funding.”

“So is it all taken care of?” asked Nolan.

“No, it’s not taken care of,” said Baumann, “because at this point the town is saying, ‘We don’t know how much you’re going to need, and you may not need to spend anything.’”

“Oh,” said Nolan, which was echoed by other Trustees.

Baumann said she asked Town Finance Director Amy Land why broadband funding is not included in the FY 2019 budget, and was told that there is no estimate yet for the project. “The RFP went out this week, and it will be back on (Monday) March 26,” she said. The town’s consultant, HealthConnect Networks, prepared and sent out the Request For Proposals to prospective contractors.

“I asked at the town staff meeting last week how much the broadband will cost — ballpark,” said Baumann. “They have no idea what the ballpark is” for the project. “They have private money from the school, and private money from the Medical Center.” (The school has $72,000 at its disposal, and the Medical Center received a $50,000 donation.)

“So you’re thinking that there’s nothing that we need to do?” asked Nolan, who suggested that the library consider applying for a Champlin Foundation Grant by the April 30 deadline to fund the connection. The Trustees agreed that it would be a good idea to consider applying for the grant.

“I have asked (Town Manager) Ed Roberge and (Finance Director) Amy Land what I should be doing, and planning now,” said Baumann. “There’s nothing I should be doing, and planning now. That’s what I know.” Baumann said she will inform the Trustees of the cost when she learns more.

Trustee Beth Taylor asked Baumann if the absence of the funding item from the FY 2019 budget indicates “a delay in the project happening.”

“No,” said Baumann. “I don’t think it indicates a delay.” The project “is moving on. The RFP is out. I think it will be a question at the Financial Town Meeting.”

Land explained to The Block Island Times that, “While some community anchor institutions have donations, or grants, to contribute toward the project, the total funding package will be finalized once responses to the RFP are in hand.” She confirmed to The Times that those anchor institutions that don’t have donations, or grant funding, would be funded from the project’s “total funding package.” 

The town’s narrative in its fiscal year 2019 operating and capital budget indicates that “final authorization and funding will be considered at the May 7, 2018 Financial Town Meeting.” 

The next Library Board of Trustees meeting is Tuesday, April 10.