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Massena Public Library asks BOCES to pay rent on basement space

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MASSENA — Free rent of teaching space at Massena Public Library may soon end for the St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services.

And BOCES officials are looking for ways to pay.

After months of discussion, library officials have asked BOCES to begin paying rent for the 980-square-foot basement space, which they said is 8 percent of the library. That, they said, translates to $2,960.96 a year, or about $250 a month.

BOCES has used the space rent-free since January 2012, when it teamed with the library to convert a room, previously used for Friends of the Library book sales, into an adult education classroom. Classes started Jan. 17, 2012 as part of the BOCES “Gateway to College and Careers” program.

The classroom, seating 24 people, has state-of-the-art equipment and an eight-station computer lab. Library officials said at the time that they hoped the use of the classroom would draw more visitors.

However, with tight budgets, the subject of rent has been addressed by the library’s trustees, most recently at last week’s meeting after they had spoken with BOCES officials.

Library Director Elaine Dunne-Thayer presented BOCES with a summary of costs involved with using the space: BOCES’ share of those bills per year would be $1,055.56 for about 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 Network Solutions.

Library and BOCES officials then met to discuss the issue. Among the participants were Ms. Dunne-Thayer, board President Mark Englert, board member Linda McDonald and 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 last week, noting the town board was looking at all town properties used by outside organizations.

The issue has yet be addressed by BOCES, and Mr. Nicola said his concern was having an answer by the time the town approved its 2014 budget, which must be adopted Nov. 13.

“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 true, said BOCES Adult Education Supervisor Lisa McKeel, who said funding for programs comes from tuition and grants. She also noted that the BOCES fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30, so the request for rent comes as the organization is four months through its budget season.

However, she said, BOCES is looking at its budget to see where it might find the funding.

“We’re tweaking budgets right now. The difficult piece is to try to come up with anything when the budget is established midyear. 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 facing financial difficulties, Ms. McKeel said.

Literacy Zone grant funding from the federal government, channeled through the state, 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 items including 20 laptop computers, tables, chairs and Smart Board, is in a location beneficial to BOCES and the library, she said.

“We’ve installed quite a bit of startup capital in terms of physical hardware, and we’d like to stay there,” Ms. McKeel said. “We hope to come up with something. We’d hate to vacate the space. It’s a great learning environment.”

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