John Jermain Attempts to Balance Expansion With the Economy

Posted on 27 April 2009

The John Jermain Memorial Library (JJML) Board of Trustees has scheduled a public referendum in June to ask district residents for a second time to approve a multi-million dollar renovation and expansion plan. But with the reality of a troubled economy on the board’s mind, it appears they will float a scaled back expansion plan at the existing library, and may offer voters a choice on whether they would like a second library near Mashashimuet Park.

“There really is broad support for the library right now,” said JJML director Catherine Creedon on Tuesday. “We are being used extensively, but in the community interaction we have had, it has become clear people are concerned about the economy and the board would not want to risk a referendum that would fail.”

Five years ago the library failed to gain voter approval for an $8 million expansion plan that included a new library at a triangle shaped property owned by the library near Mashashimuet Park. Since then, the library and its board has undergone a series of changes, with Creedon stepping in as the new director a year-and-a-half ago — around the same time the board abandoned a local architecture firm it had been working with and started again from scratch. A new round of community meetings was held, first to select Newman Architects of New Haven, Conn. to design the project, and secondly to discern what the community wants and needs in a library.

On Monday, April 20, the board gathered in the rotunda at JJML to offer a “progress report” on draft concepts they will use in coming weeks to construct a final plan and cost analysis. The board was expected to meet in executive session on Wednesday night to discuss the community’s reaction to the presentation. On Wednesday, May 6, the final proposal and price tag will be unveiled and the referendum has been scheduled for June 29.

Draft plans unveiled on Monday show an expansion on the rear of JJML, which according to Creedon would accommodate program space, offices and space for the library’s collection. By law, the library would also need to be brought up to code, American with Disabilities Act compliance and meet New York State standards for libraries, which involves repairs and maintenance on the historic structure, addressing an antiquated heating and air system and the addition of a second staircase and elevator.

Victor Conseco, of Sandpebble Builders, which is developing the cost analysis of the plan, showed slides of the existing library which painted a grim portrait of a building in need of a new roof, plaster, masonry, windows, as well as space for collections, new media and offices. According to Conseco, the ventilation in the library is so poor that half way through his presentation a portable carbon dioxide monitor showed levels exceeding what would be considered a healthy standard.

A three-story expansion at the existing library, according to Creedon, could range anywhere from 2,000 square feet to 6,000 square feet of additional space depending on the direction the board chooses to take.

Creedon also showed preliminary plans for a second building at Mashashimuet Park. If approved by voters, this building would house a state-of-the-art archival facility to protect what the director noted are historic documents at risk in the existing library due to humidity and temperature control issues. The park library would also boast rooms which Creedon said could be used for both library and community programs, as well as reading spaces and a computer lab. Periodicals would also be housed at the Mashashimuet Park site. Thirty to 36 parking spaces would be created to accommodate visitors.

The concept of separating services at the library revolves around the idea that JJML currently brings in families, and keeping children and adult collections together is a way to ensure that multi-generational activity continues.

According to Conseco, who declined to throw out estimated figures on the cost of either project, if the referendum is approved in June the design and planning phase of the project would run through much of 2010, with construction beginning that fall. The library project is not estimated to be complete until mid-2012.

Creedon said on Tuesday that despite the board’s commitment to the long-term master plan that called for a large expansion in order to accommodate current services, she believes they will move forward with either a conditional referendum or a phased referendum.

In a conditional referendum, residents would be asked to vote on whether the library should move forward with the necessary repairs at the existing library as well as an expansion to that facility. Residents could select a second option where they could elect to have the second library at the park built in addition to the work at the existing library. The third choice would be to do nothing at all.

A phased referendum would only seek to have work done at JJML with a modest expansion.

“To bring this building up to code and to put an addition on would allow myself and my colleagues to run an amazing library for the community,” said Creedon on Tuesday. “We wouldn’t have everything we have at 425 Main Street [the Mashashimuet site], but maybe this is not the era for everything.”

According to Creedon, the board will take the public comments and questions from Monday’s session and a final cost analysis from Conseco into consideration before settling on a final plan to bring to district residents on May 6.

If Monday night’s crowd is any indication, residents are pleased with the direction the board has taken. Rob Calvert thanked the board for delivering a successful range of options for the community to consider.

“I voted no the last time,” said Jackie Brody. “That was a bad plan. This is a good plan. I think a lot of people who voted no on the last one will vote yes on this one.”

Image below shows draft layout of library building as it could appear on lot adjacent to Mashashimuet Park. Image at bottom shows draft layout of main floor of historic building at 201 Main Street with 3-story expansion at the rear of the building.


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4 Responses to “John Jermain Attempts to Balance Expansion With the Economy”

  1. James T. says:

    Does anyone think we should get real plans and bids from contractors before we borrow millions of dollars? We have a “work in progress”, with a “final cost estimate two weeks off” but we’re supposed to borrow the money now? And what would be a more realistic schedule? 12 months to plan and get permits is silly, that’s more like 24 months, and a historic renovation/rebuild is another two years. This while property tax assessments and taxes are going up, and real estate values are going down. Maybe we should wait til we have a final plan, and real bids from contractors?

  2. Dear James T:
    Thank you for your comments and your interest in the library. As you suggest, getting an accurate estimate of the cost and scope for the library’s renovation is key to the success of the project. The board and I have worked for nearly a year with the architects, historic preservationists, and civil, mechanical and structural engineers to develop a scope of work. During the past month our cost estimators have been at the library nearly every day with contractors in order to arrive at an accurate cost for the project. We’ve also studied other expenses–such as those for staffing and ongoing operations–and factored these figures into decisions. Your concern about borrowing the money “now” is also a good question. In fact, while we’ve done a lot of preparatory work, the actual “borrowing process” for this type of project does not (and cannot) begin until after a successful referendum.
    Please stop by the library if you’d like to discuss this further, or see the plans. Or attend the public meeting on Wednesday May 6th at 5:15 at the library. – Catherine Creedon, Director of John Jermain

  3. James T. says:

    Fair enough, Catherine. Regardless how good the estimators are, I think you’d agree, real bids are a different matter. Maybe we can get the contractor who was going to re-build the Bulova building? They have some extra time.

    Also, have you checked the financing options? The municipal market is still very limited. What kind of interest rate do you think we would pay?

  4. Dear James T.,
    The library will most likely arrange for financing from DASNY, the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York. which provides funding services to “nonprofit higher education and health care institutions, certain state agencies, and nonprofit organizations specified by law.” I have been in dialogue with them, and they are aware of all phases of the plans to date. We are anticipating a 20 year loan, and I’m working with a conservative interest rate estimate of 6% although, in fact, it could well be lower.

    Please feel free to drop by the library if you have any additional questions, or if you would like to review the plans.
    Catherine Creedon, Director

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