Granby Officials Master a Difficult Balancing Act
One could say that’s how long it took to get a new municipal library built in Granby, said Virginia Snopek, a retired teacher in the town’s school system who chaired the building committee that finally got the job done and then orchestrated the elaborate ribbon-cutting ceremony on Nov. 16 that drew more than 1,000 residents.
But while serious talk of replacing the quaint, one-room structure built in 1917 officially began in 1973, active work to build a new facility was sporadic, said Snopek, who counted five different attempts to break ground in the ensuing years, the last, and ultimately successful, one coming in 2010, after town voters turned down a school-building project that would have included a new library, a development that effectively re-energized efforts to get a new facility built.
The elegant, $4.6 million, 12,062-square-foot library came to fruition thanks to an aggressive capital campaign that raised more than $3 million, said Snopek, adding that the successful end to this endeavor provides evidence of this rural community’s patience and resiliency, and offers another example of how change often comes slowly here.
“We owe nothing on the police station, the library, the Council on Aging, or the Highway Department building,” he noted. “We’ve done an incredible amount of construction in a short amount of time and don’t owe a dime, all because of that trash fund.”
But soon, that fund, or “cash cow,” as Barry called it, will be referenced only in the past tense. Indeed, the landfill is scheduled to close Dec. 31, leaving the town with both short- and long-term challenges. In the first category is the simple matter of how and where the town will now dispose of its trash, while the second includes the need to find new, and equally creative, ways to fund municipal projects.
And that challenge comes as the community’s leaders are moving to balance residential growth and those aforementioned municipal improvements with the growth of a business sector still dominated mostly by very small businesses and agricultural ventures.
The MacDuffie School recently relocated from Springfield to the former St. Hyacinth’s Seminary property off School Street, giving Granby a new second-largest employer (behind the municipality itself), but officials are eyeing more commercial development. To encourage it, discussions have been commenced about rezoning Route 202, the main throughway, enabling different types of businesses to locate there, and also about the possibility of infrastructure improvements, such as municipal water and sewer services, which would make the town much more attractive to businesses in several sectors.
“A new sewer line, and possibly town water, isn’t part of rezoning for business, but together, they could enable Granby to lay down a plan for the future, and that’s been one of the missions for the Granby Planning Department,” said Pam Desjardins, chair of the Planning Department.
For this, the final installment of its Community Profile series in 2013, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at Granby, its recent history, and emerging plans to make this bedroom community a more business-friendly address.
A New Chapter
When visiting a neighboring community’s library, Snopek said, she came across a plaque that read, “communities build libraries; libraries build communities.”
“And that really was what happened with our project,” she went on, adding that the initiative was truly a community-wide effort that not only gave the town a 21st-century facility with a host of amenities — including a children’s programming room, a community room that seats 60, and an area dedicated to teens — but also gave it a source of pride and sense of accomplishment, even if it took 40 years to realize the dream.
Elaborating, she said the long and varied list of donations for the project drives home that notion of a community endeavor. That list includes the gift of land on which the facility was built — made by the Alice and Fred Stewart family — as well as a large challenge grant by the Fowler-Bombardier Family Charitable Trust, and even an in-kind donation of services by a local landscape-design student.
This sense of community has been a trademark of the town since it was settled in 1727 as part of South Hadley. Incorporated in 1768, Granby, which also shares borders with Ludlow, Belchertown, Amherst, and Chicopee, has been a farming community for most of its existence, and there are several agricultural ventures still in operation.
The Dickinson Farm & Greenhouse is one of them. Operated by members of the LaFlamme family — Leonard and his sons, Marc, Mike, and Bruce — the 265-acre farm focuses on produce and flowers. And this time of year, that means poinsettias.
“We sell roughly 15,000 a year,” said Marc as he gestured to one recently emptied greenhouse and another that was reaching that state, noting that many of the festive plants are bound for other florists and churches in the region.
The 70-year-old business also includes several pick-your-own fields planted with strawberries, blueberries, and apples, as well as a second retail location (the original) in Chicopee called LaFlamme’s Garden Center. Like other businesses in town, it has benefited greatly from the loyalty of those who grew up in Granby and surrounding communities and want to buy local.
“We’re a family here, and we take the brunt of everything,” LaFlamme said, adding that, instead of laying off employees during the recent recession, the family remained conscious of each season’s sales, planning for each year based on the year before. “And some people really do understand that ours is fresher, and the Buy Local campaign is helping us.”
When asked about the business climate in the town, he said most businesses have weathered the recent fiscal storms and are holding their own.
“Things aren’t much different than they were 10 years ago,” he noted. “People still have jobs; they’re still working. Things aren’t necessarily getting better, but they aren’t getting any worse, either.”
But there are signs of improvement and new vibrancy, said Barry, who cited the relocation of MacDuffie as an indication that the community can attract new businesses.
Tom Addicks, MacDuffie’s assistant head of school, said the institution, which was founded in Springfield in 1890, was hampered in its ability to grow by the land-locked nature of the campus, located just a few blocks from that city’s central business district. Space is not an issue in Granby — the school’s footprint covers 26 of the seminary’s 500 acres — and he said there are plans in place for further construction.
“MacDuffie is planning to increase its enrollment as soon as possible, and we hope to break ground on an arts facility as soon as the funds are raised,” said Addicks, adding that further expansion of the institution would be greatly aided by infrastructure improvements such as municipal water and sewer services.
Barry concurred, but noted that such a significant step could alter the town’s fortunes — and character — in many ways, if growth is not carefully controlled.
“We don’t have sewer or town water, and that’s a double-edged sword,” he said. “It has limited our development, which is a good thing, if you like rural living, but the limited development is also a bad thing because it limits tax revenue.”
Ultimately, the community, like many in this region, would like to achieve a greater balance between residential and commercial growth, said Barry, adding that, with the library project now in the books, it’s time to focus on the next chapters in this town’s history.
Whatever those new developments are, they probably won’t take 40 years to come to fruition. But they will be community projects, in every sense of that phrase, because that’s how it’s always been in this town, and that’s one thing that won’t change.
Elizabeth Taras can be reached at [email protected]