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Possibilities at Church for Jermain Library?

Posted on 03 July 2008

Last month the director of the John Jermain Memorial Library Catherine Creedon, library board president Christiane Neuville and board member Carl Peterson visited the former United Methodist Church on Madison Street in what Peterson called a “preliminary investigation” to see if the space could fulfill the library’s needs as it looks towards expansion.

According to Neuville, the visit occurred a couple weeks ago after a June 10 board of trustees meeting when area residents Stephen Longmire, Liz Joyce and Rob Calvert approached the board asking them to consider looking into the church as a possibility for the library.

Neuville stressed the visit has yet to be discussed with the full board and that the three were looking at the church as they would any possibility that presented itself, and nothing more at this time.

The ownership of the historic United Methodist Church building has been a source of community debate and discussion for over a year now, after the church first announced and then completed a sale to former Southampton Town Councilman Dennis Suskind for $2.9 million, who said he intended on converting the church into a private residence for he and his wife. Before a contract was actually approved by the congregation or church officials, a group of Sag Harbor residents reached out to the Town of Southampton and the Village of Sag Harbor seeking a public purchase using Community Preservation Fund (CPF) monies.

Sag Harbor Village Mayor Greg Ferraris asked Southampton Town to perform the required appraisals on the property for a possible CPF purchase. While the appraisals were completed, because there was a signed contract in place and a willing seller is required by the legislation, the town chose not to move forward.

While that did not occur prior to the closing on the property, in the beginning of June Suskind announced he had listed the church for sale, although a price has yet to be determined, according to Scott Strough, of Strough Real Estate Associates, who is handling the listing. Strough says while he has had a couple of brief conversations with Longmire, he has yet to hear from anyone on the board.

“I think right now the village and the library should understand the property is on the market, we are receptive to listening to any proposals and will handle this as we would any other listing,” said Strough.

What Longmire suggested to the board, however, was the possibility that the library partner with the Town of Southampton, who could purchase the historic structure with CPF funds now that there was a willing seller, and grant rights to the building to the library. While CPF could cover costs associated with the purchase and rehabilitation of the historic structure, said Longmire, the library would be responsible for any costs associated with a renovation to upgrade the building to suit their needs.

According to CPF author state assemblyman Fred Thiele, Jr. the building is eligible for acquisition because it is a historic landmark, and it would also qualify for the restoration of the façade, as the law allows for that expenditure. The library could move into the space, although the town would own it, as it is a public use, said Thiele.

Peterson and Creedon have discussed the possibility of this option with Thiele, who said it was his impression one of the library’s concerns is whether the property will be suitable for the libraries needs.

On Wednesday, Peterson, the head of the board’s ad hoc building and grounds committee, said he had a number of other questions that had yet to be answered, and right now the board is simply working on finding out if this is a viable possibility at all.

The board has recently hired Herbert S. Newman Partners, an architecture firm from Connecticut, to find the appropriate solution to the library’s expansion. While the board has remained committed to the one library, two building plan with a second building planned at Mashashimuet Park, after they hired Newman, Neuville said they remained open to every option and would use Newman Partners as a resource in coming to a final solution.

On Wednesday, Southampton Town Councilman Chris Nuzzi said he believed in theory everyone would like to see the United Methodist Church preserved for a public use, but a community partner – whether the library or another organization – would be an important part of the puzzle to share in the investment, particularly what would be required outside of the purchase and restoration covered under CPF.

Both Nuzzi and Ferraris said a commitment from the library board or another community organization would be key to the issue moving forward.

As for Suskind, Strough said it was his opinion this could be a viable option, and that his clients are ready and willing to listen. 

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