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Watchung Library Expansion Plans Get Divided Response

Residents see plans as necessary for community—or an anachronism.

Perhaps residents' reactions to the proposed $4.23 million Watchung Library expansion given at the special Borough Council meeting Monday is a Rhorschach test of sorts: to some, it's an unnecessary expenditure to build a monument for old technology.

For others, it's a key component on keeping Watchung a vital community.

Plans for the project were unveiled after a six-year study by a committee, which determined a flexible plan providing space for community events and meetings would be the most appropriate recommendation for the outdated and cramped building currently housing the library's 30,000 books.

Borough Councilman Stephen Pote, the committee's liason to the Borough Council, said the proposal will be put to the vote on November's ballot, and noted the $4,230,000 estimated cost of refurbishing and contruction would be divided between donations, county library system contributions, the borough's building fund and taxpayers.

"In whole, we're hoping the impact to the taxpayer would be greatly reduced," Pote said. 

The project included adding 9,000 square feet to the existing 8,000 square foot shell, maximizing the use of usable space on the lot. The existing library building—a residence built in 1945 and not substantially updated since the 1970s when the library moved in—will be converted to an open area on the main floor, with two meetings rooms on the second floor and offices in the attic.

Architect Pedro Ortiz, of Foreman Architect Engineers in Manheim, Pa., said the design includes all fixtures, and noted nothing would be bolted to the floor, allowing rearrangement or other changes to meet future needs.

Ortiz said renoovations were needed to address not only code and safety requirements, but also for space needed for current uses.

"The reason we are doing this is because the books have taken over the library," he said. "It really could be a science fiction movie where the books ahve come to life and taken over everything. 

Much of the work proposed would bring bring the building to current code and accessibility requirements.

But some residents wondered why the town should bother improving the library, when it seems apparent society is moving towards electronic media. 

"I don't understand this whole thing," resident Jay Heyman said. "If you want information, there's Google; if you want books, there's Nook...We're in a cyber-world, everything has changed."

Several others also said they didn't think this was an appropriate time to spend $4 million for a library, with most questioning the future of places to store books.

But supporters said a library is not just a place for books, but a source of information—Dorothy Addario, a member of the study committee, noted libraries have access to databases for professional and student research that is not available to the general public.

"I had great concerns about where libraries were going, in terms of brick-and-mortar libraries," she said. "We came to the conclusion that books are never really going to go away."

Even if they do, some noted the library is still aplace where families congregate.

"When you go to the library, it's full of people," High Tor Road resident Debra Downs said. Right now, I feel the library had crowded out the people."

Pote said the bottom line is that there are "opportunities for funding that exist today" that make construction advantageous, including available grants and generally lower-then-normal construction costs.

Melanie Novello June 19, 2012 at 09:38 PM
I have loved this friendly old library since we moved in 29 years ago including all the children's programs, the books, the resources, the cd's and the dvd's - the ability to borrow from other libraries and to always find what you need. More recently for several years our Mah Jongg Group meets at the library twice weekly. Today, we had 16 women meet in the BiCentennial Room for our weekly Tuesday Mah Jongg Group of Watchung and yesterday there was a similarly large group who thoroughly enjoyed their time at the Monday Mah Jongg Group of Watchung. It is a vital resource in our community. For many years we have heard talk of this renovation and it's time to take the bull by the horns and finally do it. All the surveys, studies and plans have been done and now do it! I would miss the small country feel of this quaint old library but I know that the cramped nature of the building has been a problem for many years. It's time to move forward. For the people who just like to interact with their gizmos - so be it - but many of us still like the feel of human contact, a book held in your hand and a resource person to talk to, like our friendly library personnel who have been loyal employees in our town for many years and who always put forth a welcoming smile. Melanie Novello
Steve August 18, 2012 at 09:49 PM
A 4.2 MILLON DOLLAR Library for what? What kind of Library is this being built GOLD, at the coast of $467 a square foot. The Building is going to coast more to Heat, Cool, Power, ETC. WE CAN'T KEEP UP WITH WHAT WE HAVE RIGHT NOW IN WATCHUNG. Look At Warren, roads get paved, center islands were planted with nice flowers, there fire department got a new fire trucks, ETC. Watchung roads don't get paved, center islands have weeds growing out of all the pavers, trees are dead, fire department was supposed to get a new truck from what I hear but the town toke the money from the found because they're “Broke”? We can’t take care of what we have now but lets build a 4.2 MILLON DOLLAR Library.
Anthony Perrucci August 18, 2012 at 11:46 PM
Finally, residents are discussing the issue for and against the building of the library and that is a good thing. But why the secrecy? What secrecy? The cost of building this albatross is reported to be 4.2 million. Really? Do you actually believe that when any government throws out financial numbers they can be accurate or believable. Oh, what a cynic! Again, really? I have not heard from Mr Ortiz (the architect) how much he was paid by Watchung for his work. Surely, council members know the cost of the plans. Anybody want to divulge the outlay? Mr. Mayor? Council members? Yeah, $4.2/M as the crow flies.Personally, libraries are very good things but Watchung has made cuts in other areas and once this goes forward wherever cuts were made there will be an argument to restore them by recipients of those cuts. Tax increases will never abate or be held neutral. You cannot have what you cannot afford only if your not in government.
Anthony Perrucci August 18, 2012 at 11:52 PM
"Nothing will be bolted to the floor", according to architect Ortiz. OMGosh. gets dumber and dumber.
Anthony Perrucci August 19, 2012 at 12:03 AM
I was thinking perhaps the racks that hold the books and such should be bolted to the floor. Wouldn't want to hurt anyone, does that make sense? No, of course not.

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