In Upper Dublin Township, a pastoral slice of Montgomery County just outside of Ambler, the $15 million relocation of the local library has been a source of debate for the better part of two years.
But the proponents of the project now have a few more reasons to justify the move — 1 million more, to be exact.
The township’s Library and Innovation Center is the recipient of a $1 million grant from the state’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, a feature of the Office of the Budget that helps boost local or regional development.
Upper Dublin officials were notified of the grant last month, and it will be formally announced Tuesday, with a ceremony in front of the library’s new home in the township’s Fort Washington Office Park organized by state Sen. Vincent Hughes, the Democrat who represents the township.
“This funding represents a major step in the efforts to complete the vision for a learning center that will benefit the entire community,” Hughes said in a statement. “Projects like this are crucial to the work I’m trying to do in the district. We should always be in the business of providing 21st century facilities for all of our young people.”
Paul Leonard, Upper Dublin’s township manager, said Monday that the state funding will be used for the “construction and retrofitting” of the building, which previously served as the headquarters for the Rhone-Poulenc Rorer Group, a French pharmaceutical company.
The recent money was preceded by a $750,000 Keystone grant that was specifically intended to make the building’s utilities more energy-efficient. And township officials have floated a “conservative” estimate of about $1 million in private donations, on top of the public money.
“There was not a 100 percent consensus on this, but this validates it in a different kind of way,” Leonard said. “It’s not who supported it or didn’t. When you see $1 million come in, it shows that there are people out there who get it and want to support this project.”
Township residents have been split on the project since 2017, when the new building was purchased. Even the board of commissioners was divided: The vote to formally approve relocating the library to the office park was split 4-to-3 at a standing-room-only meeting in March.
“The fact that the board acted in the way it did in approving this is an issue,” Steve Stoughton, one of the earliest and most active critics of the project, said Monday.
“They said that nothing is going to change their minds, even before hearing public comment, which were many,” he added. “And I think that has people on edge, in terms of proper leadership in there.”
At 65,400 square feet, the library’s new home is four times larger than the current space, located across the street from Upper Dublin High School.
Leonard has been adamant that the new location will serve as more than a library, likening it to a community center. Some of the square footage will be commercial space available for rent, and Leonard said he has already received interest to house the physical archives of the Ambler Gazette.
And there’s the issue of traffic. The project’s most vocal opponents say putting the library in the office park violates an agreement from 1954 that promises to keep traffic from the park off of township streets.
Last summer, the township solicitor was skeptical that a nearly 70-year-old document could present a formidable hurdle to development. In voting to approve the move in March, commissioners also decided to apply for new traffic signals at two intersections around the park.