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Article Published November 29, 2017
Campaign for Branford's Blackstone Receives $150K Anonymous Gift
Pam Johnson, Senior Staff Writer

On November 28, the mercury jumped on the capital campaign thermometer at Branford's James Blackstone Memorial Library, thanks to a single, anonymous donation of $150,000.

The anonymous donor family wishes to remain anonymous, at least for the time being, said Blackstone Trustee President Andy McKirdy, adding one can "assume" the family is from Branford. The family has asked for the opportunity to name the Blackstone's auditorium in recognition of their gift. The gift is part of the proposed $4.8 million library renovation and expansion. The major gift puts the Campaign for the Blackstone at $650,000— 80 percent of its capital campaign goal of $800,000.

The campaign thermometer first sprung up on the library's Main Street front lawn in August, when the campaign revealed it had reached $425,000 in donations. At the time, Blackstone Library Trustees and Branford Community Foundation (BCF) members celebrated the campaign's "halfway to $800K" milestone and encouraged the community to help reach the $800,000 goal.

The campaign kicked off in early 2017 and received its first big boost in the spring, when BCF awarded the project a $100,000 matching grant to help kickstart the campaign, which had previously raised $275,000 in gifts from library board members, Friends of the Blackstone Library and bequests, including one from the family of Susan Cosgrove Barnes.

On Nov. 28, McKirdy noted Timothy Blackstone honored the community with the gift of the library in memory of his father in the 1890's, and last spring, BCF also honored the town by offering a $100,000 matching grant in support of the capital campaign. To date, more than 500 Branford citizens have responded with their support, "...some of which even went beyond the limits of the matching grant," said McKirdy. The BCF grant matches individual gifts of up to $1,000. To date, community response to the matching grant challenge has generated $75,000 which will be matched dollar for dollar by BCF.

"Now, more than 120 years later, after Timothy Blackstone's gift, another major donor family is honoring our community with the gift of $150,000 to name the Blackstone Library (auditorium)," said McKirdy. "And while the donors choose to remain anonymous for the time being, this gift represents a tremendous advance for us in progress toward our capital campaign goal, as well as toward our objective of making Blackstone Library truly a 21st century library."

The campaign has a few more months to reach its goal, said Library Director Karen Jensen. On Nov. 28, Jensen helped McKirdy unveil the $650,000 mark on the thermometer, a significant jump above the latest mark on the board, which had been at $500,000.

Securing the capital campaign's remaining funds, together with hoped-for town financing of approximately $3.2 million, will allow the library to land a $1 million matching construction grant awarded by the State Library and complete the total funding package.

"Our deadline for having funding for the project is March 1, 2018, but what we really need is funding from the town, at the time, to get started with our project," said Jensen, adding, "...we have been communicating with the Board of Finance and we will be asking them to approve the project."

The proposed expansion has been in the works for four years. In 2016, the Town of Branford designated $50,000 help the Blackstone Trustees fund the renovation's next phase of concept and design. Final plans were completed in the spring of 2017, leading to the next request, securing $3.2 million in town funding.

"The Board of Finance has been holding back on making a decision until the state straightened out its budget and the town knew where it would stand. But now we will be requesting, shortly, action by the Board of Finance to support the balance of what we will need to finish the project. And then hopefully, with the Board of Finance's support, we go to the Representative Town Meeting at the beginning of the year" for final approval, said McKirdy.

The overall $4.8 million project estimate is based on costs determined in January, 2017. The project would bring Branford's historic James Blackstone Library up to 21st century speed, standards and space, without compromising the building's iconic exterior, built in 1896.

Contributions from the community in any amount are welcome to help the Campaign for the Blackstone reach it's $800,000 goal.

"We'd like to note there is still a little bit of space left," on the thermometer, said McKirdy. "We'd like to encourage people who'd like to help us fill that space, to do so as soon as they're so inclined."

For more information on the project and to donate, visit the Blackstone website here