Chandler Mill Bridge

The Chandler Mill Bridge in Kennett Township.

KENNETT TOWNSHIP—The money to finally start rehabbing the Chandler Mill Bridge and reopen it was released last night by the Kennett Township Board of Supervisors.

The effort to fix the bridge will cost $516,869, will begin as early as December or January, and is estimated to be finished in July 2020, according to Township Manager Eden Ratliff. The township expects to cover much of the costs with grant funding.

The long effort to preserve and rehab the bridge will only definitively end when the ribbon is cut to reopen it, but Scudder Stevens took note of the sense of what might be called closure the funding step represented.

“This is a seriously important moment,” Stevens told the attendees at the supervisors’ second monthly meeting.

The story behind the moment began with the discovery in 2011 that the historic one-lane bridge was seriously deteriorated, requiring its being closed to vehicular traffic. A controversy emerged among people, including the board of supervisors at the time, who felt the county should be allowed to build a new modern bridge on the site, and preservationists and local people who simply liked the old bridge and wanted it to be rehabilitated and preserved.

With an ongoing effort to preserve the bridge and political changes in the makeup of the board of supervisors, the decision was made to buy the bridge from the county, seek grant money to fix it, and open it up to pedestrians, bicyclists, and emergency vehicles.

The supervisors also voted to institute a more sophisticated and robust auditing system with the help of outside consultant Maillie LP. Ratliff said he understood that auditing was a relatively uninteresting topic for most people but that raising the township’s auditing standards would bring multiple benefits.

The supervisors heard a presentation about the Kennett Library’s plans from Jeff Yetter, vice-chair of the library’s board of trustees. As he has in other municipalities among the eight the library serves, Yetter discussed the inadequacies of the current aging library building and the $15 million capital campaign the trustees are undertaking to build a sophisticated new headquarters in the borough.

The new building would have a wide set of new resources to offer, Yetter said. He showed artist’s renderings of a large, modern building with a spacious reception area.

A 110-seat auditorium is planned for the new library that could offer free movie nights, lectures, and be available for community events and private gatherings, Yetter said. This would aid economic development, as would the space planned for the library’s currently cramped adult literacy and citizenship classes, Yetter said.

Yetter said Kennett Township residents were the largest group of library users among the eight municipalities, with 5,448 township people known to use the library, or 27 percent of the users. He thanked the township for what he called its generous contributions to the library’s operating budget, and said the new capital campaign was seeking an ad-hoc contribution for the new building.

The campaign wanted the eight combined municipalities to contribute 20 percent of the cost of the new building, allocated proportionately according to use levels among them, Yetter said. For Kennett Township this came to $721,889, which the capital campaign organizers suggest could be spread over three years with $241,000 yearly payments. These could be paid for, Yetter said, with a temporary tax increase or drawn from available funds the township already had.

The supervisors said they reflected the township residents’ demonstrated, consistent financial support for the library, but the specific ways suggested to respond to the funding request for the new library varied as the discussion went on.

Ratliff suggested a modest temporary tax increase that would amount to a six-year increase of $36 on a household worth $500,000. But Amy Heinrich, the township’s new finance and human resources director, said she did not favor that plan, and the supervisors were reluctant to go that route as well.

In the end the supervisors decided to let stand an item in the proposed 2020 budget that gave the library $120,000 for the year, as part of a six-year proposal to support the new building effort while putting less stress on the budget amid a push to contain costs. The proposal would draw from existing revenues, not new taxes.

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