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Massena Public Library asks BOCES to pay rent on basement space

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MASSENA - The days of allowing the St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services to use a 980-square-foot space for free in the Massena Public Library could be coming to an end.

But, BOCES officials, that could present a financial problem for them

After months of discussion, library officials have asked BOCES officials to begin paying rent on the space, which they said accounts for 8 percent of the area of the library. That, they said, translates to $2,960.96 a year, or approximately $250 a month.

BOCES has used the space rent-free since January 2012 when they teamed up with the library to convert a room that had been used for Friends of the Library book sales into an adult education classroom.

Classes started Jan. 17, 2012 as part of the BOCES adult education Gateway To College and Careers program.

The space provided a classroom with seating for 24 individuals, as well as state-of-the-art equipment and an eight-station computer lab. Library officials said at the time they hoped the addition of the classroom would draw more visitors to the facility.

However, with tight budgets, the subject of charging rent for the space has been a discussion topic among members of the library’s Board of Trustees, including during their meeting this week after they had an opportunity to talk with BOCES officials.

Library Director Elaine Dunne-Thayer had presented BOCES officials with a summary of the occupancy costs attributable to the space they use in the library. The summary pointed out the costs for cleaning, as well as the average electric, gas and Wi-Fi bills.

According to the summary and based on the square footage used by BOCES, the BOCES share of those bills per year would be $1,055.56 for approximately two hours a week of cleaning, $920 for Massena Electric, $947 for St. Lawrence Gas and $38.40 for the Wi-Fi bill through Slic.

Following that, the two entitles held a meeting to discuss the need to pay for their fair share of occupancy expenses.

Among the participants in the meeting were Ms. Dunne-Thayer, board President Mark Englert, board member Linda McDonald and Town Councilman Albert N. Nicola, the town’s liaison to the library’s Board of Trustees.

“We made it clear as we have before that we want something for the space. We stand by that,” Mr. Nicola told trustees this week, noting they were looking at all town properties that were used by outside organizations.

The issue still needs to be addressed by BOCES, and Mr. Nicola said his concern was having an answer by the time the town approved its 2014 budget. Their budget must be adopted during their Nov. 13 regular meeting, he said.

“If you feel that they’re moving toward some kind of payment, that’s fine. We’d like to know,” he said.

“Just as a personal aside, BOCES has got money. It’s not a problem for BOCES.”

But that’s not necessarily the case, according to BOCES Adult Education Supervisor Lisa McKeel, who said funding for those programs comes from tuition and grants. She also noted that their fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30, so the request for rent is coming at a time when they are four months through their budget season.

However, she said, they’re looking at their budget to see where they could come up with the funding.

“We’re tweaking budgets right now. The difficult piece is to try to come up with anything when the budget is established mid-year. We’re looking at rubbing nickels together to come with anything. For July 1 of next year, it becomes a little bit easier of a discussion piece,” Ms. McKeel said.

“I certainly understand we are utilizing their space. With tough fiscal times, they are looking to recoup some of the costs associated with the room,” she said.

But like the library, the BOCES adult education program is also facing financial difficulties, according to Ms. McKeel.

Literacy Zone grant funding comes from the federal government and flows through the state and has “been reduced significantly,” she said.

“For our Massena location with the Literacy Zone, we faced a $150,000 reduction in funding. It’s not coming at a very good time,” she said.

The space, which BOCES has equipped with a number of items including 20 laptop computers, tables, chairs and Smart Board, is in a location that’s beneficial to BOCES and the library, she said, and they’d like to remain there.

“We do have use of the space, and it’s a great space. We’ve installed quite a bit of start-up capital in terms of physical hardware, and we’d like to stay there. We hope to come up with something. We’d hate to vacate the space. It’s a great learning environment,” she said.

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