Town, library partner to build

Scaled-down project has all sides satisfied

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  • Photos by Linda Smith Hancharick Anthony Iovino of Acari and Iovino Architects PC, architect for the library board, talks to the township council and library board about the new building.

  • Joan Oberer, president of the West Milford Library Board, discusses a scaled-back version of the proposed new library Monday night with the township council.

  • Members of both the township council and library board listen as the architects for both groups presented their drawings of a new library building.

"We are still excited about the prospect of joining you in providing this great opportunity to all of the residents of West Milford. We also realize that the time is now."
Joan Oberer, president of the West Milford Library Board

The township council has agreed in principal to partner with the library board as it builds its new library on property adjacent to the town hall.

The agreement is for a scaled-back project than was originally discussed, and the township will have between one quarter and one third of the building space.

The building's total square footage will be 17,000 square feet; the township will occupy about half of the upper floor, plus share in the common areas. The numbers aren't final because the architects' plans are just concept plans, according to Mayor Bettina Bieri.

“I am very pleased with the recent progress we have made and the cooperation received from the entire governing body,” said Bieri after Monday’s joint meeting between the council and the library board. “The library board has taken into consideration all of the comments it has received from the council and the public, and combined that information with years of planning, designing, re-designing and thoughtful due diligence.”

The tentative plan
The plan is to build a two-story building, totaling 17,000 square feet. The township will have use of about half of the top floor, plus be jointly responsible for some of the common areas, including bathrooms and elevator.

The costs are estimates. Both the township and library board’s architects have estimated the costs to be between $200 and $250 per square foot. The approximate cost for the township, depending on how much space they actually have and the cost, will be between $800,000 and $1.35 million.

Members of the public as well as some council members have suggested the township use the $800,000 that has been sitting in a redevelopment fund for years to pay for most of their share of the building. No definite plans have been made but the township rents space from the school district at Hillcrest Community Center. The cost of bonding for this new space could cost less than the cost to use Hillcrest. That option - leaving Hillcrest - has been talked about by the council as well.

The township would use this space as either conference rooms for community use and/or offices. It will also have the use of the current library.

The township will own the new building, as it owns the current building.

The current library has about 3,000-square-feet of space for its patrons. The basement portion of the building is used for storage. The state recommends a library of about between 17,000 and 18,000 square feet for West Milford’s population.

The library moves forward

The library originally planned to build the library with 17,000 square feet of space just for library purposes. The board asked the township if it would like to go in on the project, since the Highlands Act prohibits new building throughout the township. This project had all of the approvals needed and some looked at it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to give the township additional space it needs. If the council agreed, the library board said it would add an additional story to the building for township use.

Money has always been an issue for the township. This council, and others before it, has said it would be beneficial to have the space as part of a plan to reorganize some of the departments in town hall, but cost is an issue. And how much space would they need?

Monday night, Joan Oberer, president of the library board, discussed for the first time this scaled back proposal. Instead of the three-story building, the board proposed a two-story building, with the township and library sharing the upper floor. This was more agreeable to some on the council who had expressed concern with the costs involved in building an entire floor for township use.

The state, which sets the amount of library tax received by the municipality, lowered the amount for West Milford this year by $200,000. That comes on the heels of the revaluation that occurred two years ago.

“The new scaled-back plans, developed due to budgetary constraints, offer an exciting opportunity to meet the needs of the library community and the community as a whole while being cost effective and efficient for both the library board and the council,” said Bieri. “We look forward to working out the details and moving forward with construction.”

“I'm thanking you for scaling back,” said Councilwoman Michele Dale, who has said throughout the discussions that she would like to see this work between the two entities. “I’m about affordability. I’ve never built something I couldn’t afford.”

The library board is already deep into the project, having bought the property and paid for all engineering costs, permits, septic and architectural services. The township will not have to pay for any of these costs. Still, the library board has $2.3 million in its capital fund, according to library board trustee Andy Gargano, money they've squirreled away over the years with the intent to build the library.

What's next?

Oberer and the library board specifically asked that the council give a definitive answer by April 23, the date of next township council meeting. Township attorney Fred Semrau has prepared a draft agreement, which the council approved in principal Wednesday night. He will make some changes and send it to the library for review. If all parties agree, the council will have a resolution.

This all comes nearly five years after the West Milford Library Board bought the property with the sole intention of building a new library.

“We are still excited about the prospect of joining you in providing this great opportunity to all of the residents of West Milford,” said Oberer Monday night. “We also realize that the time is now.”

What are your feelings on this compromise? Go to and let us know.

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West Milford, NJ