‘Think outside the books'

| 21 Feb 2012 | 11:01

    MONROE-Cathy Hilliard cannot understand why some people are against the Town of Monroe's plan to build a new library and town hall off of Route 208. She's not alone - others expressed similar thoughts during a casual question-and-answer community meeting held Tuesday at the current library "If you can go into a bagel shop and spend $8 on your morning breakfast, you can spend $8 to improve your library," said Hilliard, a Village of Monroe resident, referring to estimated money in taxes residents will pay toward the new building. The goal of the meeting was to answer questions that community members might have in regard to the plans to build a new $12.9 million library and town hall on town property in Monroe. Some of those at the meeting included the plan's architect, construction manager, the library's trustees, the library's staff and Monroe's tax collector. All tried to answer such questions before the June 21 public referendum. And all agreed: Monroe needs a library and it has to be built now. Monroe needs a new library "because this community deserves to have a library that matches the school system we have here," said Suzanne Skeels, the assistant library director. The current library on Millpond parkway was built in 1960 and was expanded in 1984. "The town's population has quadrupled since that time," said Irving Zuckerman, the project's construction manager. "The demand for services has increased and they don't have the resources they need to run a library. The special requirements are not even code compliant to hold the volume of people it does- there's not enough space to function." The plan's architect, Andre Keel, says that the current design will provide space for the future as the town continues to grow. "The plan provides a 20-year envelope and after that, there's room to expand. It meets need now and in the future. Even in 10 years if they say ‘it's tight and I'm too small,' we will re-evaluate it then, but that's years from now," Keel said. The primary grievances of the current library from those in support of the new library are that: the wiring can not support enough computer workstations for patron use, there is no meeting room, there are no "real" quiet areas, there is not enough rooms for materials, items must be discarded long before they should to make room for new materials, and that "space limitations negatively impact services the library can provide to the community." Keel says that the new building will be cost efficient because as well as holding the new library, it will house the new headquarters for the Monroe Town hall. "They're functioning in an over-crowded capacity as well. Employees are in spaces that aren't even offices. Some are in spaces in the basement - there are no windows or air - and some don't even have offices," he said. The new library and municipal center will be located on town-owned property, partly located in the village, off of Route 208. Library officials say that the library and Town are partners on this project "in an effort to provide efficient facilities and improved services, while eliminating a duplication of costs for taxpayers." The project's total cost is $12.9 million, which includes new construction, site work, furniture, fixtures, equipment and everything that is required to complete the project. The estimate by the library is based on the fact that the project will be publicly bid and awarded to the lowest responsible bidder. If the plan is approved by voters on June 21, the library's architect and construction manger will first spend several months in design development, securing local approvals, coordinating projects, reviewing bids, and mobilizing construction. Construction would begin in late 2005 and be competed by early 2007. The federal government provides no funding for libraries, and state funding, the library says, "is almost non-existent." The library's campaign in the community has focused largely on the $8-a-month figure which representatives refer to quite often. William H. Bollenbach, the tax collector of Monroe who also is treasurer of the Monroe Free Library, said that the figure is based on a home assessed at $50,000. Translating assessed value into market value, Bollenbach said the typical taxpayer pays, who now pays about $125 a year to the library budget, would pay an additional $97 a year. Numbers like these concern many Monroe residents. As do issues like location. Regardless, Hilliard, who also has a volunteer seat on the library's Board of Trustee's, hopes the community will come out and vote "yes" on the plan. She remembers growing up in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx and spending her days in her library, "when library cards were pieces of cardboard." The grandmother, who has seven grandchildren, all in the Monroe-Woodbury School District, added: "Those things (library services) were there for me. Now it's my duty to pay it forward to the next generation."