Library discussion continues

Township council, library board will meet on Monday

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The numbers
Two-story library cost: $3.2-$3.8 million
Three-story building: $4.9 to $5.8 million
Last year, the library board received $1.2 million to run its library. This year, the amount was reduced to $999,000. The library does not intend to increase staff, which is the major portion of its costs, Mayor Bettina Bieri said. If the funding is cut further, changes will be made within the library. Taxpayers will not be impacted by that.

The township had its own architect weigh in last week on the new library project and is set to meet with the library board on Monday to further discuss a joint venture.

Brian Altman, principal architect and owner of Element Architectural Group, discussed the project with the council. Altman is not the library board’s architect; he has been hired by the township and answered the council’s questions regarding cost estimates, overruns and usable space.

What's next
The township council will meet on Monday, March 31, with the library board to discuss the library's expansion plan and financial arrangements for cost sharing if the council agrees to participate in the building. The meeting is open to the public and begins at 6:30 p.m. in the township hall.

An opportunity to build
Earlier this month, as well as for many previous meetings, members of the public urged the council to give its approval to joining forces with the library board in building an additional floor to their new building. The library board is building a new library adjacent to the township complex on Union Valley Road. It’s a unique opportunity for the township to build new space for its needs since the Highlands Act prohibits most building in the township. The library board is planning on building a two-story building for its use and has offered the townhip the opportunity to build a third story at the township’s expense.

Space studies for the township have shown the need for more space for township offices and storage. Several departments in town hall are in the basement, which is not handicap accessible. Proponents of the additional floor on the new library say the township’s space issues would be alleviated if they get in on the building.

Going to bid
The council has discussed this for years, and now that the library has begun the actual construction process with a septic already done, they want to go out to bid for the project and need the council’s decision.

Councilman Lou Signorino suggested the library build its two-story building and then the township would bid its third story.

“I’m not looking to share in the cost of footings and a roof - things the library board will have to pay for without the township,” said Signorino.

But Altman said that wouldn’t be efficient. If they did it that way, a roof will have been constructed only to be removed when the third story is added, for one thing.

“Building all three floors together is more efficient,” said Altman.

The space and the costs
The library’s plan is to build a two-story library with 8,500 square feet of space on each floor. If the township wants in, it would get the upper floor, which has a square footage of 7,460. The cost estimates run $200 to $238 per square foot, Altman said. The three-story building would range from $4.9 to $5.8 million. If the council decides not to go in on the building, the cost for the two-story building is estimated to be between $3.2 and $3.8 million.

Councilwoman Michele Dale asked about building overruns and what they should expect. Altman said his firm’s projects have a 3 percent maximum overrun. The range of costs given, he said, from minimum to maximum would cover the overrrun. There are also credits, he said, which would bring the price down. Dale also asked about costs to change the interior from meeting rooms to offices. Altman said the cost to add partitions is “negligible.”

Altman suggested the building cost be broken up based on the amount of square footage for each the library board and the township. So the township's floor would be the smaller, top floor. They would pay for that square footage. The council and library board would also have an agreement on sharing costs to run the building.

Funding for the library is set by the state and comes to the municipality, which then gives the money to the library board. The West Milford Library Board has built up its building fund because the amount it receives from the state is more than it needs to run the existing library, which many say is inadequate to serve a town the size of West Milford.

Support from the public
Former Councilman Dan Jurkovic was on the council when they voted to approve the purchase of the property, known as the Finn property, for the library.

"It was pretty clear to me that we were buying the property to build a library," said Jurkovic. "The hope was to build the library with their own money. They reached that. The only question here is if the council wants to build a third floor. We desperately need more space for storage, more space for employees and for civic organizations."

The township utilizes Hillcrest through a lease with the school board, which owns the building. Numerous civic groups as well as the township use that building for their gatherings. Talk for quite some time has been to move the township out of Hillcrest and utilize its other buildings, including the PAL building, the current library and the new library.

"It makes sense to build," said Jurkovic. "It makes so much sense."

Resident Bob Pawlo also encouraged the township to move forward. He characterized "certain factions who are saying it's going to break the budget" as "typical West Milford nonsense." He said Ringwood and Wantage have new libraries that are packed.

"You can't get a computer or a parking space at the current library," said Pawlo. "A new facility is needed."

Moving forward
The library board has already purchased the property for the library, done the architectural drawings and installed a septic. Mayor Bettina Bieri, who is also a member of the library board, said the library is not going to ask the township for any of that money already spent. The next step is to go to bid for the actual building but it wants to wait and see if the township is on board. However, the discussion has been ongoing for quite some time and the goal is to get a shovel in the ground by fall.

Tell us what you think about the council's discussion and whether it should get in on the building of the library. Go to westmilfordmessenger.com.

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