Ledyard to indefinitely close Gales Ferry Library

The Gales Ferry Library Wednesday, May 12, 2010. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
The Gales Ferry Library Wednesday, May 12, 2010. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

Ledyard — Amid the ongoing state budget crisis, the town is indefinitely closing the Gales Ferry Library at the end of the month, Mayor Fred Allyn III announced on Monday.

The impact is a shift of Gales Ferry staff and programs to Bill Library, a decrease in hours among part-time staffers, and a need for some community organizations to find another meeting space.

"We have to react to the governor's executive order budget," Allyn told The Day. "Ledyard's losing millions of dollars through that budget, and we've already seen our first $1,515,000 of reductions, and we're trying to do what we can to minimize what's ultimately going to be a tax increase."

As reactions poured in on Facebook, many residents thanked Allyn for his leadership and placed blame on state government. Some commended the decision, while others expressed sadness but understanding.

The mayor first met with Gale Bradbury, who has been library director since 1988, about the decision on Thursday.

"I was devastated, I guess you could say," Bradbury said. "It took me by surprise. I wasn't expecting it, and we're trying to be positive about this."

The optimism comes from a belief that the closure is only temporary, though Bradbury said anybody's guess on a reopening date is as good as hers.

"Conversations have revolved around: If state funding levels return to 'normal,' would there be an opportunity to reopen it?" Allyn said. "And my opinion was it's hard to say that right now, because we would've thought that we would've had a budget come July 1st of this current year, so it's a very difficult thing to project."

The operating budget for both town libraries in the current fiscal year is $605,794, and Allyn projects the Gales Ferry Library closure will save the town between $120,000 and $140,000 per year.

These savings won't be realized immediately.

Gales Ferry Library is part of Libraries Online (LION), a consortium of Connecticut libraries, and Allyn said LION requires 90 days' notice.

There are also two union employees who will be moving from Gales Ferry to Bill — one full-time and one half-time — so Bradbury said the brunt of the closure will fall on the backs of the 12 part-time employees across the two libraries.

She clarified that nobody will end up with no hours; they will just have reduced hours.

As Gales Ferry Library closes, Bill Library will be scaling back its hours. Current hours are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday, but Bradbury said the library needs to cut eight hours per week.

One program that will be moved from Gales Ferry to Bill is the Three to Fives storytime held on Tuesday mornings. Starting in November, it will be held at Bill Library, in addition to the existing Three to Fives storytime on Thursday afternoon.

Sarah Black was just finding out about the Gales Ferry Library closure when she was there for storytime on Tuesday morning.

"I think it's sad," said Black, who grew up in Mystic but moved to Ledyard a couple years ago. "I loved the library growing up, and I wouldn't want to see any of them close. I think people should spend more time in libraries."

Along with storytime, Bradbury said another program moving from Gales Ferry to Bill is the stock investment discussion group.

One program that will be left behind is the ongoing book sale in the Gales Ferry basement, as there is no room to run it at Bill.

Bradbury added that groups convening in the meeting room at Gales Ferry — such as Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and homeowners' associations — will have to find other spaces, as the meeting room at Bill is booked most nights.

Library staff will still be back and forth to Gales Ferry daily to pick up and return books that were requested, Bradbury said.

The mayor said his decision came from balancing "a true need versus a desire," and he noted that not many towns with a similar population — about 15,000 — have more than one library.

"It's one of probably a number of tough decisions I'm going to face," Allyn said, "and as the state process wears on, and I'm not getting a feeling that there's going to be a budget next week or next month, the decisions are going to keep coming."

Other than shuttering the Gales Ferry Library, he said cost-saving measures in the town include asking for furlough days, implementing a spending freeze, eliminating positions and cutting cable television to the firehouses.

e.moser@theday.com

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