Tag Archive | "John Jermain Library"

Library Waits on Village Review of Expansion

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It is still unclear when the proposal for the expansion and renovation of the historic John Jermain Memorial Library (JJML) on Main Street in Sag Harbor will commence, although according to library director Catherine Creedon it should begin sometime in the next two months.

During a JJML board of trustees meeting on Wednesday, October 21, Creedon said Newman Architects, the Connecticut firm charged with designing the 7000 square foot expansion were fine tuning plans for the library, specifically where different services will be held in the three-story building. The project has also made it through the first round of review with the Domestic Authority of the State of New York (DASNY), which will bond the $10 million voter-approved plan with 20-year bonds.

While Creedon said she intended to submit materials for November’s planning board meeting, she added an informational work session with that board may be required before any formal process begins with the village as a part of rules laid out in the new village code.

Trustees expressed concern with any delay, noting residents of the Sag Harbor School District, which make up the library district, will fund the project publicly and any holdup could cost residents more money in the long run.

 “My fear again is because all of this is so new and with the fear of lawsuits we might be crunched in the middle of all this,” said board president Diane Gaites, who added she hopes the public will come out in support of the project at all village meetings. Creedon said she would update the library website, www.johnjermain.org, the minute village meetings are scheduled regarding the project.

At the same time, Creedon noted during her director’s report that the building is continuing to deteriorate structurally, as three new “major leaks” have sprung up throughout the library, one over the large print books, one over the coin operated printer and one in the staff room.

 “The latter, just inside the door, is located in such a way that bucket-placement becomes a challenge,” she said. “It is also located feet from any pipes or exterior walls making the source of the leak somewhat difficult to identify.”

Also, early in the season, the boiler at JJML is not working, although Creedon said she hoped the problem would be remedied before winter set in, noting the zigzag in temperatures has made testing the boiler difficult at best.

Despite expected drops in temperature, one thing JJML has not seen is a decline in patrons. Creedon said program attendance and patron use at the library has not seen usual seasonal declines, crediting the passage of the expansion and renovation referendum and annual budget.

 “This vote—roughly 88% positive — is also a testament to the hardworking staff, especially the circulation desk staff, who are most often the patrons’ first experience of the library,” she said.

In other library news, current Suffolk County Library System Trustees Nat Brown, Harold Trabold and Irving Toliver were nominated by the board to reelection to their posts.


John Jermain Library: Expansion Hopes to Round Out Services

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While much of a close to $10 million referendum the John Jermain Memorial Library (JJML) has proposed to Sag Harbor School District residents will cover the cost to restore and renovate JJML, as well as bring the historic structure into compliance with state codes, the 7,000 square-foot, three-story addition will also enable the library to almost double in size.

The expansion itself will cost roughly $2.5 million with the library board seeking close to $10 million from district voters on Monday, June 29. Some of the actual expansion itself, explained library director Catherine Creedon, will enable the library to meet state codes with the installation of an elevator, a second set of stairs — both mandated by the state — as well as room for a new heating and air conditioning system. However, the expansion will also enable the library to increase services to children, teens and the community at large through the creation of expanded program spaces, a climate controlled archive, a dedicated area for children and teens, a business center and a contemplative reading and study area in the third floor rotunda.

The ground floor of the addition will boast a community room, which can be sealed off from the rest of JJML, enabling the library to allow community groups to host gatherings there without having to staff the whole of the library, noted Creedon.

“As you know, there is no civic center in Sag Harbor and we do get a lot of requests to use the library,” said the director. “This meeting space will be available to those groups.”

The expansion also enables the ground floor of the library to host almost exclusively the children’s and teen collections and services. Creedon said this was planned to allow easier access for parents through the Jefferson Street entrance, which will be equipped with a storage area for strollers. The timing of the referendum, added Creedon, happens to coincide with a spike in circulation in the children’s collection.

“We have seen a dramatic increase in circulation in the children’s collection in the last few months,” she said. “While we have seen a steady increase in all areas over the past year, last month circulation of our children’s books was up 24 percent over May a year ago, and that was even before it started raining so much. I know the statistics for June will be off the chart.”

Creedon says she has seen more patrons across the board at JJML, which she attributes, in part, to the sagging economy.

“But I think once that heavy reading habit kicks in, people turn to it in other times as well when they see how enjoyable an experience it can be,” she said.

Creedon added the teen area of the ground floor has been designed with their library habits in mind, lending to a social environment where groups of teenagers can read, research and work on homework together.

“They tend to use our resources in a more social way,” explained Creedon. “They tend to do homework in groups, they tend to discuss the material they are reading more than adults and children. Reading is a social activity to them – they all want to read the same thing at once.”

On the second floor, plans call for a business center to be added to the library, which will offer a free fax, a free scanner, copy machines and large-scale computers. Creedon said the space was vital as many residents are turning to the library to provide these resources, particularly in tough economic times when many may not be able to afford the technology to further themselves professionally.

The business center will be adjacent to a computer kiosk, which will be surrounded by the library’s multimedia collection. Staff offices, virtually non-existent at the current JJML, are also proposed for the second story, as is gallery space next to expanded spaces for new books and adult fiction.

The third floor of the library, in addition to increasing space for adult non-fiction, offering a reference and periodical area, will be devoted to a climate controlled archive and contemplative reading space, which Creedon said was the original vision for the rotunda at JJML.

The archive is one of the aspects of the building plan Creedon is most excited about.

“We have a wonderful collection of historic documents of Sag Harbor that are in danger of being lost,” she explained. The documents, which range from a second edition Algonquin Language Bible – the first collection of Bibles printed in the United States – to the sketchbook and collection of William Wallace Tooker, as well as scrapbooks, photographs and newspapers recounting the village’s history, are currently held in conditions unfavorable to long term preservation, said Creedon. The expansion would create a climate and light controlled space for the collection, and enable the library to begin collecting more historic documents for preservation.

The plan is to return the rotunda to its original use, as a contemplative study space, said Creedon.

“We are anticipating the aura and silence of the New York Public Library reading room and it will be just as beautiful,” she said. The library has kept much of the original furniture for the rotunda and will return the space to its original floor plan, complete with a working fireplace.

“I picture it as a gathering space for the community, but in a different way,” said Creedon. “It will be a place to gather together and be solitary.”

While Creedon has a desire to see the referendum plan come to pass, she said on Tuesday, no matter what the outcome, she has been impressed with the support the Sag Harbor community has shown the library in anticipation of Monday’s vote.

“People care about the cultural life of the community they live in, and seeing that has been a wonderful experience,” said Creedon. “It has been great to discuss the deeper essence of what a library means to a community. Even if this doesn’t go through, the process has been very positive for me. I would recommend to any new library director, that they try and get out into their community and get outside the walls of the library to understand the presence their institution has on the community as a whole.”

The referendum vote takes place at JJML (201 Main Street, Sag Harbor) from noon to 8 p.m. on Monday, June 29.

John Jermain Library: Restoration Dominated by Repairs

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Next Monday, June 29, residents of the Sag Harbor School District will vote on whether to approve a close to $10 million renovation and expansion plan at the historic John Jermain Memorial Library (JJML), with almost 70 percent of the funding going towards repair of the building’s sagging façade, leaky roof and bringing the structure into compliance with the state’s building code and standards for public buildings.

According to JJML Director Catherine Creedon, of the $9,987,500 the library board is asking residents to approve for the project, roughly $5 million will be earmarked for the repair and restoration of the existing building. An additional $2.2 million will cover the installation of a new HVAC system and bring the building to code and in compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act with the construction of an elevator and handicap accessible bathrooms. The remaining $2.5 million will cover the 7,000-square-foot expansion, which will nearly double the size of the existing library.

Should the referendum pass, Creedon said the 20-year bond the library would seek, with projected interest rates between 4.9 and 5.25 percent, will cost a district family living in a home valued at $750,000 between $93 and $97 per year, or about 25 cents a day.

According to Creedon, the library is at a crossroads when it comes to repairs needed at the nearly 100-year-old building, which she believes will only get worse as time goes by, eventually becoming too costly to restore.

“The façade of the building and the exterior has a couple major issues,” explained Creedon, noting the brickwork is loose in areas, and the north and northeast side of the building has sustained water damage due to prevailing winds. Additionally, the limestone cornice is damaged, Creedon said, primarily due to a cycle of freezing temperatures.

“I actually have three pieces of it in my office,” said Creedon, adding the library was forced to shroud the structure in scaffolding in November of 2006 to ensure pieces of the cornice would not fall off and injure library patrons.

Window frames, particularly on the north side, are also in dire need of repair, said Creedon, suffering water damage.

If passed, the referendum would also fund the repair of JJML’s roof, which currently leaks at such a rate that Creedon said she often spends rainy days emptying buckets of rainfall, collected in the third floor rotunda.

“The roof is flat and there is a parapet, so it acts almost like a kiddie pool – water just collects there,” said Creedon. Originally, JJML was constructed with eight roof drains with rubber flashing, but over the years, she said, the flashing has deteriorated and in some cases rotted out. Whole drainage pipes, she added, have been blocked over the years, not draining as well as they were intended to, leading to pooling of water on the library’s roof, causing leakage throughout the library.

Since the drains empty into the library’s cesspool, Creedon said, with heavy rain, the library’s system is at risk to back up. It is expected to receive an upgrade should the referendum vote pass

“I tend to be really on top of having the cesspool pumped, especially in weather like we have been having this June,” said Creedon.

Exterior issues, which are damaging the historic façade of JJML, said Creedon, translate into interior concerns, including the sagging of the skylight in the third floor rotunda. During the heavy rains the region has faced through late spring into early summer, Creedon said she watched leaking through the skylight become heavier than in years past.

“That is of great concern to me and the staff,” said Creedon. “I think we are at a point right now with the water damage issues where it needs to be addressed now — in a year or two it will be too late.”

Otherwise, the building is “remarkably solid” for its 100-year lifespan, down to some of the original furniture commissioned for the library, which was a gift from Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage in 1910.

Outside of restoration, JJML has been operating largely without complying with either state building codes, state standards for public spaces and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Once the library begins any renovation project, it will need to come under compliance, which will cost roughly $2.2 million.

The upgrade project includes installation of a sprinkler system, required for any public building in New York, as well as the replacement of an electrical system Creedon said was “grossly out of date.”

The heating system is also in dire need of replacement, said Creedon, failing to heat the third floor of the library at all and only minimally heating the first two floors of the building.

“And our lighting does not meet standards for New York State Public Libraries,” said Creedon. “It’s inefficient, and most pronounced on the ground floor.”

To comply with ADA, the referendum would cover the installation of an elevator, providing handicap patrons with access to the whole of JJML, as well as a second stairway.

If the referendum fails to gain community support, Creedon said these repairs are at such a critical point, that some will have to be made one way or another and likely through an increase in the library’s annual operating budget, which she predicted the board would be able to maintain with a slight tax increase if the referendum passes.

“If this fails, we will need to write in a significant amount of money for immediate and necessary repairs, including the purchase of a new boiler system,” she said. “It is just not safe the way it is presently hooked up.”

Despite the current state of the building, and the lack of space as a whole, Creedon said she and her staff remain resilient and upbeat, even during cold winter mornings.

“I am really struck by, in all my years of work in public libraries, how wonderfully close we all are,” she said. “For a lot of us, we are able to look at the referendum vote during days when we didn’t have heat on the third floor, and say in one or two years we will be able to address this.”

Southern Discomfort: Photographer Herbert Randall recalls the Freedom Summer of 1964

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A selection of photographs by Herbert Randall goes on view this weekend at the John Jermain Memorial Library in Sag Harbor. Randall, who lives on the Shinnecock Reservation with his wife, Roz, will show family portraits, cityscapes and candids. But perhaps his most significant photographs are the images he took 45 years ago. 

In 1964, when our new president was three years old, Randall was a 28 year old photographer living in the Bronx. Randall had won a John Hay Whitney Fellowship for a photographic project and felt he should head South to do some shooting. A friend in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) office in New York suggested Randall go along as the photographer on a SNCC project scheduled in the south that summer. 

“I said, ‘OK, that sounds good. I might be able to do that,’” recalls Randall. “Then she told me it was in Mississippi. I remember my words, ‘There’s no way in hell I’m going to Mississippi.’” 

A short time later, Randall met Sandy Leigh, project director for the Hattiesburg, Miss. SNCC office who came to New York to recruit volunteers. When he found out Randall was a photographer, Lee persuaded him to come along.

During a week long training session with SNCC in Oxford, Ohio, Randall and the other volunteers learned that three men from the previous session had disappeared. By the end of the summer, Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman, had been found dead in Mississippi.

When Randall made his way to Hattiesburg, tensions were high. He rode in a car driven by a white male volunteer with three white women. Because the car was a foreign model with Pennsylvania plates, they were a target — Randall was black and knew he couldn’t be caught in a car with whites.

“You were scared,” he recalls. “Three people had been killed — a lot of people didn’t have qualms to do in more. They thought we were invading their beloved section of the country. I had to lay in the back seat through the states between Ohio and the South.”

In fact, not long after arriving in Mississippi, volunteers noticed that the car Randall had ridden in had a bullet hole in it, as did other SNCC cars. The Mississippi welcoming committee had left a calling card. 

“The first photos I took in Mississippi was of the cars which were shot into,” said Randall.

For the two months he was in Mississippi, Randall documented scenes of African-American life — children playing, picnics, hayrides and small towns. But many of Randall’s photographs became iconic images of the struggle for equality. His photograph of folk singers Roger Johnson and Pete Seeger singing with students remains one of his most recognizable. Another of Cleveland’s Rabbi Arthur J. Lelyveld who had been beaten in response to his efforts to register black voters ran in newspapers across the country. 

“I had difficulty taking pictures of people beaten. But I found myself in many roles that I hadn’t envisioned. You wanted to help,” says Randall. 

“I was down there just to document the program and perhaps get photos for my fellowship. I didn’t have any ideas about it. I’d help if I could and hopefully use some of the photographs,” he says. “I swore If I could get out of that damn place without being maimed or killed, I’d never go back.”

But Randall did go back, 35 years later when his work was shown at the museum at the University of Southern Mississippi. With the inauguration of President Obama, Randall says he paused to reflect — not on the role he played in the civil rights effort, but on behalf of those who did not live to see the day.

“A lot people who didn’t make it to this point really struggled for equal rights,” said Randall. “I really think about the ones that didn’t make it. It’s a new world — hopefully.”

The exhibit of Herbert Randall’s photographs opens at the John Jermain Library, Main Street, Sag Harbor this Sunday with a reception from 2 to 4 p.m. The opening includes observance of the National African American Read-In. The show runs through February 28.

Above: Herbert Randall’s image of Roger Johnson and Pete Seeger singing “We Shall Overcome” with Freedom School students at the Palmer’s Crossing Community Center in Mississippi



 

Ready for More at Library

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While we respect the idea that the John Jermain Memorial Library Board of Trustees and Newman Architects would like to give the public the opportunity to shape a new building program for Sag Harbor’s library, to a certain extent much of this discussion feels redundant.

We understand this is a relatively new firm to the process, and that the board is keeping in mind both a failed $8 million dollar referendum for a new library at Mashashimuet Park, as well as an architectural plan debuted over a year ago that was not embraced by the community. That being said, our position is that it is time to move this project forward past concepts and towards something more concrete before the kind of dialogue the board is hoping for will occur.

As a community, we have been discussing the need for more library space for years, and while there may be a few members of the community who disagree, for the most part we believe the consensus is that Sag Harbor needs library space it simply cannot accomplish solely at the current John Jermain Memorial Library. That special, historic edifice is also in need of attention – attention we would hate to see put off longer, while we have the same discussion we had five years ago about what kind of library services and programming we need and want.

We believe it is time for Newman Architects to put up a project plan and design so that the Sag Harbor community can kick it around a little bit, punch some holes in it, and likely send them back to the drawing board. This, we feel, is how the kind of dialogue the library board is seeking will truly emerge, and the public’s position on use of space and design will be heard, and loudly. Knowing the Sag Harbor community, revisions will be likely and plentiful, but we do not believe the kind of give and take needed or wanted to perfect a library plan will be heard prior to the architect’s unveiling a design or a number of designs.

In part, this belief stems from the lackluster attendance at the last library forum earlier this fall, which for the most part was attended solely by the same members of the community who attend every meeting regarding the library, and in no way represented the diverse opinions of residents in the Sag Harbor School District. While we as a newspaper have encouraged the public’s participation in this past forum, and certainly at Saturday’s discussion as well, it leaves us wondering if residents are ready to stop talking about concepts regarding the library, and ready for something more concrete. 

Four Seek Three Seats on Library Board

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This Monday marked the deadline for residents to submit petitions to the clerk of the Sag Harbor school district to run in the upcoming John Jermain Memorial Library trustee elections. Three seats are up for election, and four petitions with the required 25 signatures were received.

The three trustees whose terms have expired, board president Christiane Neuville, Theresa Ameres and Susan Merrell, are all running for reelection. All trustees run at large.

The one new face in the race is Craig Rhodes, a local architect.

Although the library board is now fully elected, until 2006 all trustee seats had been appointed. Neuville, Ameres and Merrell, who took office January 1 of 2006, were the first elected trustees, each serving a three-year term. Accordingly, their terms expire on December 31 of this year.

Neuville was born in France and was a California resident since 1948, before moving to Sag Harbor in 2000. She was an educator and college counselor at a San Francisco prep school for 30 years, and was also a library board president in Sausalito, California.

Ameres, a Sag Harbor resident, tutors local grade school students as well as volunteers at the Stella Maris Regional Catholic School library. She has also taught middle and high school students in Roslyn and Lynbrook public schools. She received a Bachelors Degree in English and World Literature from Manhattan College and a Masters Degree in Secondary Education from Hofstra University. 

Merrell has been a resident of Sag Harbor since 1989. She is a novelist who has also written for several publications including “Self,” “New Woman” and “Parenting.” Merrell also teaches in the Bay Street Theatre’s Young Playwrights Program. She graduated from Cornell University with a degree in psychology, and has worked in marketing and public relations for such companies as Yale University Press, Grey Advertising and Avon Products.

Rhodes, the newcomer in the race, was raised in Sag Harbor. He explained he spent much of his youth in the John Jermain Memorial Library, to which he attributes his interest in running for trustee. He’s had a house here for many years, although lived in Manhattan. He and his family moved here full time in 2006. Now, he says, his daughter has learned to love the library as well.

“I just want it to be the best facility it can be,” said Rhodes, who has been an architect for 30 years. He believes his expertise and knowledge in this field may be helpful with the continuing conversations in expanding the library.

Said Rhodes, “I think I can lend some critical abilities to the process.”

The expansion of the library has been a dominant topic of discussion for the board of trustees, and will most likely be taken into consideration in the upcoming trustee elections.

A budget meeting and trustee forum will be held at the library on September 10 at 5:15. The budget vote will be on the same ballot as the trustees, also held at the library, on September 16 from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

This year’s proposed budget is for $989,580, a 9.26 percent increase. Last year’s approved budget was from $905,700. There is not, however, a spending increase according to library director Catherine Creedon, as several costs, such as children’s books, the annual audit and computer related expenses were not factored into the 2007 budget.

Additional reporting by Kathryn G. Menu.

Art Urges Viewer to Find His Own Meaning

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By Marianne Levine

As one walks up the pretty curving staircase of Sag Harbor’s historic John Jermain Memorial Library, it’s hard not to notice the simply pinned paper works by locally based artist Jesse Pasca. “Pages from History” is the exhibit currently on display there until August 31, and is a body of work specifically created for the library. It is Pasca’s way of giving something back to a community he cherishes for its serenity and history. When asked what inspires his work, he states, “human creativity is the most important force in the world. The creative force is about constructing – the sequencing, the patterning together of a something, and for me personally the visual is the safest way to construct.”

His mixed-media collages are studies in the co-habitation of this force with its uneasy companion, destruction.

The pieces have provocative titles such as “Buchenwald (or in this case) Dreaming of Butterflies”, and “Mid-Atlantic Slave Trade (following the light of the moon through time).” These are subjects that are dark and disturbing yet the pieces themselves are often light and inviting through the contrasting of delicate figurative collage and drawing with brightly colored, expressive brushwork. He plays with lines that define and contain space. In the piece “How Shall We Live,” he draws lines that could be read as defining the floor and ceiling space of an enclosed room, and yet the clear blue paint and white fluffy clouds that overlay it suggest the sky and its endless horizon instead. In several works there are precisely drawn leafless trees growing out of or beside ancient monuments thereby contrasting the ever-fluctuating creation of nature with the crumbling presence of man. In the show’s every piece there is some form of conflict or harmony depending on how one sees it.

Pasca attempts to get the viewer to “construct a meaning for themselves” by slowing them down and having them look carefully into his images thereby becoming more “aware of one’s heart and one’s participation on the planet.” Having to stop and read the thought-provoking titles and then re-view the art, arrests the attention of the viewer enough to “interface” with the work – a word that Pasca uses along with other technical and scientific terminology to describe his work.

A lot of Pasca’s work is painstakingly put together, and has a mathematical or scientific basis to it. His solo show at the Mehr Gallery in Chelsea this past spring, entitled “My Heart as a Stock Market”, included mathematically drawn graphs and charts logging every emotional response he had on a certain day. “We are all technological systems. We have chemical firings in our bodies that determine our behaviors and habits” he relates while explaining his inspiration for the spring show. He also created a series of technically drawn pieces called, “Moore’s Law” which is named after one of the founders of “Intel,” Gordon Moore. The term Moore’s Law is a technical term used to describe the doubling of a chip’s processing ability every two years. Pasca is intrigued by the idea that perhaps we humans could double our capacity for good every two years and counter the destruction that humanity has shown it is capable of in the past.

Despite Pasca’s love of technological phrases and ideas, in the end he returns to crafting a piece carefully by hand. In fact he feels living in Sag Harbor perfectly harmonizes with his desire to be “mindful and slow things down.” He moved here permanently about four years ago, and has been involved in the community as a teacher as well as an artist. “Sag Harbor is my favorite town in the Hamptons. I love the history embedded here. I feel I have inherited some of its stories. The town holds onto its stories quite well and I feel the library is a definite part of them.”

“Pages from History” resides nicely with all the library’s manuscripts and children’s books. Cathy Creedon, the library’s director, started exhibiting work by local artists in February of this year, and was very pleased to have Pasca create this show for the space as they both share similar ideas on art and its purpose.

“I am really committed to the idea of artwork as documentation. A piece of art is as much an information resource as a book,” Creedon explains. She was familiar with Pasca’s work and was excited to have someone of his artistic reputation exhibit at the library.

The show’s opening last Thursday brought a lively, younger audience to the library, which was very satisfying to Creedon. “Our art openings and exhibits have drawn new faces to the library, and once they see our beautiful space and what else is available here they return to use all our other resources.” She hopes that the success of this new program will lead to a juried June art show for Pearson High School seniors with a college scholarship as its prize. In the meantime she is pleased that people are enjoying Pasca’s work in the library’s lovely gallery space.

 

Some Push for a Library at Church

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By Raphael Odell Shapiro

At last Wednesday’s monthly board of trustees meeting at the John Jermain Memorial Library, trustee in charge of fundraising Susie Merrell was the first to broach the subject of the United Methodist Church building acquisition. In a grueling meeting that had many of the trustees sneaking glances at their watches, the controversial topic dominated the discussion.

“I’m very committed to investigating the church,” said Merrell. “But we would need $15,000 to $17,000 now just for the investigation,” she added. 

Merrell stressed the importance of finding people to underwrite funding up front as opposed to public fundraising. Merrell proposed calling upon the people who brought the church to the board’s attention as a possibility for their expansion plan, suggesting they were in, for lack of a better term, a “put up or shut up” situation.

Trustee Nancy Hallock didn’t see the benefit of being at the church as opposed to building a new space in Mashashimuet Park.

“We’ll either need money to build or money to renovate,” she said. “I agree, they should have to foot the bill if they want us to reconsider.”

Hallock reminded the board that the church will by no means “answer [their] prayers,” – that it would require a lot of work, but still would not be the perfect solution. Merrell interjected that if the board fails to at least explore fully the viability of using the United Methodist Church space, they run the risk of alienating a segment of the population.

For years the library has been searching for ways to expand beyond the walls of the historic domed building on Main Street that it has occupied since 1910. The board has maintained a commitment to the “one library, two buildings” concept – renovating the original historic library while creating a new space somewhere near the library. The most likely, and certainly the most discussed scenario has involved using a triangular lot in the northwest corner of Mashashimuet Park for the second library space.

However, at a June 10 meeting, the board of trustees was approached by three area residents, Stephen Longmire, Liz Joyce and Rob Calvert, who asked the board to consider converting the former United Methodist Church building, located just a block away from the John Jermain Memorial Library on Madison Street. The church is now on the market after being purchased by former Southampton Town Councilman Dennis Suskind. Suskind’s purchase of the historic edifice was met with public opposition from some who hoped it would remain in the public sphere.

Library director Catherine Creedon, along with board member Carl Peterson, met with Southampton Town Councilman Chris Nuzzi to discuss whether or not a town purchase could be made through the Community Preservation Fund (CPF) for conversion to a library. According to Creedon, while there was precedent backing this kind of purchase through CPF, she had yet to hear if the Southampton Town Board determined it would be an appropriate use of the funds.

Creedon also reported on a meeting she, library board president Christiane Neuville and Peterson attended with architects Herbert Newman and Michael Scott, of the firm Herbert S. Newman & Partners of New Haven, Connecticut. Herman S. Newman Partners were selected early this summer, after an extensive search, as the firm which would help the library create their new space. The firm is not yet under contract with the library, but several written agreements will soon be drafted, outlining the divisions of services and programs.

On July 10, the two principals for the firm traveled to Sag Harbor to meet with the sub-committee, which Creedon has dubbed informally the “Architect Liaison Committee,” at the Methodist Church. According to Creedon, in conversations she had had with Scott beforehand, he had expressed that “the firm will never say something cannot be done.” Upon arriving at the church, however, the two architects’ comments were anything but positive. Scott reportedly admitted that the church would be “very difficult to convert.”

The two men expressed concern about the structure of the building. Evidently, the wooden frame does not meet today’s standards in terms of a public space. If the building remained a church and continued to be used as such, no reevaluation of its structure would be necessary. Another issue is floor loads. Without major reconstruction, the floors of the historic church cannot withstand the weight of thousands of books, not to mention the library’s patrons.

The architects were also worried about the five different levels within the church building, noting it would make accessibility difficult. More staff would also be needed to cover each level. They also noted there is not enough space for parking at this time.

Newman, who appreciated the building’s historic appeal, was reportedly “devastated” when informed that the Methodist Church congregation would be taking the stained glass windows with them to their new location. He warned the three members of the sub-committee that taking the building’s aluminum siding into account, and considering the major reconstruction needed, what may be left is a “windowless, aluminum-clad shell.”

Scott affirmed that the church’s proximity to the library is really the only advantage, that despite the beauty of the space it would need to be considerably stabilized. Creedon reported that Scott found it an “interesting prospect to convert,” but for the sake of the building, it would be best if it remained a church. After that a use might be a public assembly hall, and next best a private residence. A library was fourth on the architects’ list.

As for a new building at the park, the architects have imagined it as a kind of gateway into Sag Harbor. They also projected that financially the board would achieve up to one-and-a-half times the library on the triangular lot, with fewer future costs, as they could at the church space.

Some of the board members were encouraged to hear on Wednesday that Scott, in a letter of intent, was at least willing to pursue a more thorough inspection of the church. Trustee Diane Gaites was not.

“I just think everything we’re saying now is null and void,” she emphasized, observing that Southampton Town cannot fund the library, as it is not a preservation foundation. Board member Carol Williams interjected that state assemblyman Fred Thiele said that was not the case, and that she would follow up on that information.

But Gaites reaffirmed her stance. She said that after four years of looking into the expansion, she believes the board is “going backwards.” Gaites reminded the board that 80 percent of library patrons live outside of the village, perhaps rendering proximity a moot point. She ended the night’s discussion by concluding passionately, “I think we are spinning our wheels and spending time on something we shouldn’t be.”

 Above photo taken by kathryn g. menu

In A Perfect World …

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In a perfect world the former United Methodist Church would be the ideal site for the new building the John Jermain Memorial Library desperately needs. The marriage of two important landmarks in Sag Harbor’s history would be a model moment for the village and surely one we could all be proud of.

Unfortunately what is ideal is not always the reality of a situation, and where we live is far from a perfect world.

While we believe having the United Methodist Church kept as a public space would be the best ending in this story, we remain unconvinced that it is the right or ideal solution for the John Jermain Memorial Library.

Regrettably, we feel this has placed the library board of trustees’ in a position where they are not only taking steps backwards, but are now poised to disappoint a faction of the community deeply if they choose to continue to chart what has been their present course —towards Mashashimuet Park.

Worse, Herbet S. Newman Partners, the architectural firm chosen to help guide the library and community through a design and referendum process, stand to alienate a portion of the library district should they argue the church is an inappropriate space. The building has a lot of emotion attached to it for many, as it should, and especially given its history over the last year.

Ultimately, the John Jermain Memorial Library board of trustees will be under-serving its patrons should it choose the United Methodist Church parcel over the parcel at the park. The decision would be based partially on a community longing for community space — not appropriate library space, which should be the board’s ultimate goal.

We are concerned the church space would be prohibitive in what it could offer the library in the sense of facility and organization. Long-term maintenance costs is another concern we have, but ultimately time is the foe in this debate as we feel this stands to set the library board back months in its goals, and who knows how long if they must wait for the Town of Southampton to move forward.

While there are those who argue the distance between the park and the current library is too great — or the distance between the park and the village is too great — we disagree whole-heartedly. This is an opportunity to create a larger sense of space in the community — from the park through the village. And let us not forget a number of library district residents are not village residents, but reside in greater Sag Harbor — a collective that embraces the park and facilities at Mashashimuet already.

So while we wish we could stand behind the concept of the library board seriously considering the United Methodist Church for its expansion, we feel it was headed in the right direction while on its own path. And in a perfect world, a more appropriate community organization will step forward on the church’s behalf.