The transfer was arranged by state Sen. Colin Bonini and state Rep. Sean Lynn
Dover’s city council on Aug. 14 unanimously approved the sale of the old city library building to Wesley College.
The college will pay the city a token $1 for the 0.86-acre property, whose as-is market value in October 2016 had been estimated at $1.1 million.
The sale is contingent on a commitment by state Sen. Colin R.J. Bonini, R-Dover, to provide the city $750,000 in payments from his community transportation fund account.
Bonini is to provide $500,000 from his portion of the FY 2018 state budget, and $125,000 each year from the FY 2019 and FY 2020 budgets.
The remaining commitment, amounting to $300,000, is to be provided by state Rep. Sean M. Lynn, D-Dover, from his FY 2018 CTF budget allotment.
That totals $1.05 million.
The city would be allowed to cancel the deal if Wesley officials later decided not to use the building for educational purposes.
A complicated deal
The former library at 45 S. State St. has been vacant since September 2012, when the facility moved to a newly-constructed building adjacent to city hall. Since then, city officials have struggled to find a use for the building.
Suggestions have ranged from using it for additional city administrative offices to establishing a homeless shelter.
Council President Tim Slavin said the city needed to get to the next chapter of what it wanted to do with that building.
Toward that end, he said, “We were presented with a somewhat complicated deal.”
On July 12, 2016, Wesley President Robert E. Clark II offered a proposal to reuse the facility for the college’s proposed master’s degree in occupational therapy program.
Clark made what Slavin called “a compelling argument” for the college to take over the building, but the council wasn’t ready to immediately take him up on the idea, at least until they had some idea of its value.
“We had to determine what we felt the property was worth and also what the deferred maintenance costs would take away,” Slavin said. “We had a building that had not been used for five years, and it had suffered from some neglect and a lack of maintenance.”
Although the property was appraised at $1.62 million last year, that figure only would have been valid had the city spent several hundred thousand dollars to make repairs and bring it up to code, Slavin said.
Two other appraisals, not including the repair costs, placed the structure’s value at $1.1 million, he said.
In a display of bipartisanship, Lynn and Bonini worked together to make the project happen.
Lynn said he was approached by the city to see if he’d be interested in contracting CTF dollars to offset the general fund budget of the city so Wesley could acquire the library.
He agreed, because bringing an empty building back to usefulness would serve to better the downtown area, he said.
Because financial legislation starts in the Senate, Bonini, a 1991 Wesley alumnus, inserted a clause in the FY 2018 bond bill, SB 125, favorable to the purchase.
“The big thing is this is a win-win for everyone,” he said. “It takes a building off the city rolls and the college pays to renovate it.”
Bonini’s move is common among members of the General Assembly, he said, one that gives legislators the chance to support a project championed by one of their own.
Specifically, Bonini’s clause, listed as Section 33 of the bill, said the General Assembly wanted to “encourage economic development, increase access to higher education and contribute to public safety in the Downtown Dover community” with the building’s transfer to the college.
It was put in the form of a “strong recommendation,” language that almost guarantees legislators will approve it.
The bill, however, didn’t specify how that transfer was to be done. The solution was to give Dover money from both Bonini’s and Lynn’s community transportation fund accounts, with the caveat that cash could only be spent on traffic and road projects within city limits.
This funding is built into each annual state budget and divided among state representatives and senators; although the amount can vary somewhat, the FY 2018 budget set aside $275,000 for transportation work.
Legislators can bank unspent CTF money, thus increasing the amount they can award each year. Normally project sponsors, from those wanting to fix some potholes or repair a sidewalk, apply individually; SB 125 allowed Bonini and Lynn to transfer the money directly to the city.
“We streamlined the process of getting the money to the city to make it a lot easier,” Bonini said. “The bottom line is that the money is allocated from the General Assembly for transportation needs and that’s exactly where it’s going.”
Lynn said the move “basically takes the place of dollars [the city] would allocate within its own budget for transportation purposes and that frees up dollars for a project like this.”
Clark said the college looks forward to acquiring the building soon and starting the renovation process. That will be funded by the school and with private donations.
“We as a community have the potential to completely reinvigorate and revitalize Downtown Dover, and I truly believe that working together on the renovation of the old Dover library will be a positive step in the right direction,” Clark said.
Bonini dismissed the notion the renovated library could be named in his honor.
“I don’t know about that,” he demurred. “I just think this is a win-win. Everybody wins.”
Although the Wesley campus contains numerous buildings bearing the names of people instrumental in college history, Clark said no discussions have been held on that subject regarding the former library.
“Naming is something we could potentially consider as we seek interested parties that will help with the renovation funding,” he said.
Slavin said the actual transfer of ownership will happen shortly.
“We’re hoping to close on the property within 30 days and transfer it to Wesley,” he said. “They have private funding and need ownership to get started.”