Gurney's Inn
July 18, 2007

A New Library For Westhampton?

(click for larger version)
A new day is dawning at the Westhampton Free Library. And the community wants to be a part of the process.

Residents turned out on Saturday at the library's annex for a public forum to discuss a proposed $7.8 million project that would involve tearing down the current facility and building an entirely new, two-story structure.

Westhampton Free Library Director Matthew Bollerman introduced the library's board of trustees and began by thanking Assemblyman Fred Thiele, who was present at Saturday's event, for his efforts in regard to funding at the state level. Thiele said in recent years there has been an increased focus on libraries that was "long overdue." This year and last, however, $14 million has been allocated statewide in support of library construction and operating costs. The library plans on applying for some of those funds moving forward.

Thiele pointed out that there are a number of library projects pending on the East End – last year, Hampton Bays received funding – in communities such as Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor.

According to Thiele, libraries are able to utilize the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York, which provides financing and construction services to public and private universities, not-for-profit health care facilities and other institutions that serve the public good. The dormitory authority gives facilities such as libraries the ability to bond for tax-free financing with low interest rates.

Bollerman said the need for a new library was sparked by several challenges facing the current space. The first is problems with an aging infrastructure and building, which was constructed in 1906. Secondly, he noted, it is important to address comprehensive community needs. Lastly, there is a need to respond to changes in services regarding the evolving role of a public library.

Over the years, there were a number of additions added to the original building, with the annex built in 2003.

"The word here is 'hodgepodge,'" said Bollerman. "I have never been in a building that has more interior walls." The director said the end result is a "maze" and not an efficient use of space.

Bollerman said the current facility lacks the space to accommodate a growing collection of resources. Other issues facing today's library include limited technology resources – there are lines for computers as demands increase. And, he added, as the library exists, "Quiet study is non-existent" and the children's library is undersized.

Aging systems such as the library's air-conditioning need to be addressed, as well.

Bollerman pointed out that all other public facilities in the village, including the school and village hall, have received recent facelifts; the library, he said, should follow suit. "Reinvestment is important."

As the process ensues, Bollerman assured that public input would be crucial, just as it has been in previous months and meetings.

Architect Pansy Cheng of Ward Associated presented an overview of plans for the facility, which will be designed in the same location after residents "preferred to stay."

The library, they say, is an important part of the community's fabric. The new two-story facility will be designed to look just like the old library, with the second story tucked under and behind the roof in the rear. And, at 14,250 square feet, the building will be almost double the size of the current space. The basement was not an option because the library is in the flood zone.

The second floor will be dedicated to a child zone with parent alcoves, so that patrons downstairs are not affected by noise – acoustics were a major factor in the new library's design. Other upgrades will include new toilets, an increase to 18 parking spaces, and an energy-efficient design.

Victor Canseco of Sand Pebble Builders said the process has involved stakeholders. "This building was not designed by an architect alone in a room – it was designed by the community."

Canseco said if a public referendum is approved in October, residents may be able to expect groundbreaking in April of 2008, with a new facility open in October of 2009.

Bollerman believes "We're in a position to get this done." The library, he said, has little debt, and expanded parking opportunities will be available with access to the village parking lot behind the bank.

During the construction, Bollerman said, the goal is to find a location in the village for temporary quarters, although none has been found yet. No plan is yet in place in regard to where books will be stored during construction. But, he assured, "We will not be shutting down for 18 months."

As for cost, Bollerman said the $7.8 million includes all costs. The increase in the assessed rate for taxpayers would be 0.149 over 20 years, or $10 a month for a home assessed at $800,000.

Public questions included concerns about access to the children's library upstairs; an elevator will be constructed. Others were worried about the impacts to the surrounding area during construction. Bollerman said the annex would be invaluable and the street would only have to be closed on certain days. While he admitted, "It's tight," he added. "Hopefully, the impact will be minimal."

Others voiced concerns that the green building would be unattractive. Cheng assured the building would be designed with an eye toward warm spaces, with plenty of color and room for artwork.

Village Trustee Hank Tucker, also on the library's board of trustees, reminded that construction costs have been escalating in recent years and it was important to get the project started – that's why the decision was made to bond for funding. If the board had decided to wait for fundraisers, "People end up sitting on milk crates. We want to get it done."

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