Library Nixes Building By Park, Expand Historic Building Instead

Posted on 08 May 2009

The John Jermain Memorial Library (JJML) Board of Trustees announced on Wednesday night that it would not seek to build a second library at Mashashimuet Park, and instead presented an almost $10 million restoration and expansion plan at the existing Main Street, Sag Harbor library.

“The board is going to go forward with a plan that only encompasses the restoration and expansion of our building at 201 Main Street,” said JJML Director Catherine Creedon on Tuesday. Creedon said the board would ask residents of the Sag Harbor Union Free School District to approve a $9,987,500 referendum for the project on June 29.

The board will look for a 20-year-bond, and has already seen three proposals from lenders quoting interest rates between 4.9 and 5.25 percent. Using a conservative 5.5 percent interest rate estimate, Creedon said a family living in a Southampton home valued at $750,000 would pay approximately $97.50 per year, with a comparable home in East Hampton paying $93.50 if the project is approved at the polls.

Fifty-two percent of the monies will cover the restoration of the historic library, with 26 percent of the price tag covering code compliance, safety, American with Disabilities Act compliance and handicap accessibility at JJML, which the library must complete by law. The balance, said Creedon, will cover the expansion of the library, which will be constructed at the rear of the building.

The expansion would almost double the space of the existing 7,500 square foot building, with roughly 7,000 square feet of additional space planned.

“More than half of that expansion will be for code compliance, safety and handicap accessibility, including a second stairway we are required to construct by law, an elevator and a new HVAC system,” said Creedon.

“It’s beautiful,” said Creedon of the expansion plan.

The ground floor will boast a meeting room with an independent entrance, allowing the library to host programming after-hours with minimal staff to keep costs low. An art gallery area has been layered into the computer lab on the second floor, which will also have an additional reading room. A climate controlled archival space is planned for the third floor, which will enable library staff to preserve documents related to Sag Harbor history — something Creedon noted has been near impossible under the library’s current conditions.

She is particularly excited about the third floor rotunda, which will be restored with its original furniture to its traditional use as “a contemplative space for scholars and researchers.”

“The dome will be restored, no leaks,” said Creedon.

Despite a community library committee report detailing the need for a second library at the park, according to Creedon, a number of factors including the cost of the project in a struggling economy, led the board to the decision to keep the project at JJML.

“This was a very long decision making process,” said Creedon on Tuesday. “The piece of property at 435 Main Street [next to Mashashimuet Park] offered us the potential of a 6,000 square foot building with an additional 31 parking spaces. It would have cost $6 million just for the building.”

Creedon said an additional $1 million would have been necessary for land acquisition, closing costs, survey work and for the Pine Barren credits the library would have had to pay for in order to construct a cesspool at the site.

“The second factor is that piece of property is more environmentally sensitive,” said Creedon, noting it is not only next to Mashashimuet Park, but also the Long Pond Greenbelt. Any building project there would have been subject to a State Environmental Quality Review [SEQR], which would have been administered by the Village of Sag Harbor. In order to initiate that permit process, the library would need to submit complete plans to the village planning board, which they will be unable to fund until the referendum has passed. A lengthy SEQR process could also put a project years in the making on the back burner – something the board does not want to see, said Creedon, as it finally has a project that seems to be moving forward.

“We did not want to hold up an expansion of the library for this community based on a SEQR review,” said Creedon.

Lastly, the building at the park, which Creedon said was “unbelievably beautiful,” boasting an art gallery, computer lab, reading areas and state-of-the-art archival center, would have almost doubled JJML’s annual operating budget.

“We would have required seven new staff members to run the building, including a custodian,” she said. “That amounts to almost a half-of-a-million dollars a year. So on top of our budget and on top of a referendum, we would have been asking for a 50 percent increase in our annual operating budget.”

“This is really a bare bones budget,” said Creedon of the referendum plan. “Anything that seemed extra we have set aside with the commitment that we will fundraise for those things. This will accomplish the restoration of the building and a necessary expansion.”

Creedon has already begun to initiate fundraising discussions and has started applying for a series of grants including an economic stimulus grant from the federal government. JJML’s request has already made it through the first round. Creedon will also seek a construction grant from the state and has received a $1,000 grant that has enabled her to hire two interns for the summer to begin archival work at JJML.

All of this, noted Creedon, comes as the library continues to see more and more residents take advantage of its programming. This weekend alone, close to 200 people turned out for events including “Voices of Sag Harbor,” a “Cool Tunes for Kids” concert and a Library of Congress program, “Reconstructing the Library of Thomas Jefferson.”

“This weekend, to work at the library, it just really felt wonderful,” she said. 


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