Officials call Dover Library deal with Wesley College a ‘win-win’

 

The old library building is 17,980 square feet and sits on 0.8587 of an acre. It was appraised by Dover Consulting Services Inc. on May 12, 2016, to have a value of $1.62 million.

DOVER — The recent transfer of a building from the city of Dover to Wesley College for $1 has engendered some controversy among Dover residents, but officials are confident the deal is a net positive for everyone.

City Council voted Aug. 14 to sell the old Dover Public Library building. The facility, located at 45 S. State St., has sat dormant since the city opened its new $20.8 million library in September 2012.

The building was sold to Wesley for $1, but that agreement includes a commitment from two lawmakers to use $1.05 million in existing funds for infrastructure work in Dover.

Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover, and Rep. Sean Lynn, D-Dover, have pledged Community Transportation Funds to help Dover. Sen. Bonini is committing $750,000, while Rep. Lynn will provide $300,000. The money will be provided to the city over multiple years.

The 62 members of the General Assembly receive CTF money every year in the bond bill for relatively minor transportation-related work, such as road pavings, new signs or curb improvements. Each legislator was allocated $275,000 this fiscal year.

That $1.05 million Sen. Bonini and Rep. Lynn have promised will be placed into the city’s transportation fund, which is used for infrastructure projects throughout Dover. The move effectively allows Dover to spend $1.05 million on roadwork without raising any taxes.

The transfer agreement drew criticism on social media when it was publicized, with some people questioning why Wesley did not pay more for a property appraised in October at around $1.1 million.

The deal, officials say, will benefit not only Wesley College but will also be good for the people who live in and pass through Delaware’s capital city.

“There’s no question that this was a benefit to my district,” Rep. Lynn said.

Last year, Wesley proposed it be given the building, saying it would turn it into a “state-of-the-art educational facility dedicated to the teaching and training in health science and other high-demand fields of study.”

The college said in its presentation to the Council Committee of the Whole that the facility would create “five to seven initial permanent jobs, with additional ones to follow.”

Although some individuals wondered why the building was not turned into a homeless shelter, Rep. Lynn said the city never received any offers on the property.

“It’s been a drain on the city in terms of security and utilities and other things,” he said.

City Council President Tim Slavin said in an email the $1 cost was in recognition of the fact Wesley “now be committing significant capital funding in order to address deferred maintenance and additional improvements necessary for a 21st century educational facility.”

In its presentation last year, the college estimated renovating the building would cost $2 million.

Sen. Bonini, a 1992 graduate of Wesley, called the arrangement “a win-win for everybody.”

While lawmakers generally use CTF dollars for projects in their districts, scoring points with constituents, Sen. Bonini’s $750,000 will go to an area primarily located outside his district. There’s no rule against that, however, and Sen. Bonini believes improving Kent County’s biggest city benefits everyone in the county.

“I think all of us have a vested interest in revitalizing downtown Dover, and I think this is a big part of it,” he said.

According to Sen. Bonini, there are no urgent infrastructure needs in his district that are not being funded.

“I think the difference between funding something a mile south of Dover and funding something in Dover isn’t much to me,” he said.

At his urging, the Joint Committee on Capital Improvement inserted into the bond bill language “strongly” recommending the old library be transferred to Wesley.

“This transfer will benefit all stakeholders: taxpayers and the city of Dover will benefit by removing a significant financial burden and the potential public safety hazard of another vacant building in the downtown area; Kent County’s economy will benefit by having a viable and cooperative partner in what is otherwise a vacant non-used property; and Delaware students will have significantly greater educational opportunities in some of the most in-demand fields of study,” the clause states.

Without the arrangement Sen. Bonini likely would have spent his CTF funds in southeastern Kent County, outside of Dover, Rep. Lynn noted.

Language in the deal gives the city “right of first refusal in the event that Wesley College no longer wishes to use the building for educational purposes.”

The agreement was unanimous among the members of City Council, although Brian Lewis was absent.

“I think people criticizing it don’t understand how beneficial this is,” Sen. Bonini said.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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