Township, library discuss plans

| 14 Jun 2012 | 01:09

WEST MILFORD — The Facilities Assessment Committee addressed the township council with figures on all of the space being occupied by township departments and programs, both owned and rented space. The discussion quickly turned to the plans for a new library, the possibility of a new town hall and getting all of the township's employees into space that is accessible to all.

Out of the basement Michael Gerst of the Facilities Assessment Committee made his presentation of the committee's findings to the council, outlining the current space being utilized and what might be available in the future. The plan for a new library has been proceeding, with the library board planning to build its new 22,000 square foot facility adjacent to the town hall on the acquired Finn property. The current library contains 3,429 square feet on its main floor with the same amount of storage and offices in the basement. The Library Board has $2.5 million saved in a capital account and will fund the library on its own without township funding.

However, before they go forward with their plan, they have offered to build an additional story onto the new building for township use, giving the township another 6,000 square feet of space. In addition, the nearly 7,000 square feet in the current library would be available to the township as well.

Currently, several departments are located in the basement of the township hall, including the tax assessor and Planning Department. Those offices are not accessible for those with disabilities. It has been a priority to find space that is accessible for all.

"That has always been the goal - to get everyone out of the basement," said Mayor Bettina Bieri, who also sits on the Library Board.

To those who also want to add onto the current town hall, Bieri said the current library could accommodate the employees at the Johner building.

"We can move them over here and sell the Johner building and put it back on the tax rolls."

Currently, township employees have offices in the town hall, the Hillcrest Community Center, the Johner building and the DPW complex on Lycosky Drive.

So, where do they go from here?

Some on the council said an overall plan is needed before the Library Board moves forward with its plan while others say the library has been in the process for years and should move forward.

Councilwoman CarlLa Horton said she wants the library to proceed. She encouraged the township to let the Library Board know whether they will want space in the new building soon so they can get the building started. She also suggested moving the police department to the current library building since they are operational 24 hours a day and having their own building would be beneficial.

Councilman Mike Ramaglia wants it to slow down a bit, at least until an overall plan is made. He said he doesn't want to build a library and then figure out the overall plan. Instead, the library should be part of the plan.

Councilman Lou Signorino could see both sides. On the one hand, he said the Library Board wants to move ahead and he doesn't want to hold up their plans. On the other hand, he wants the township to have an overall plan so they can work with the library on space issues.

The Library Board has been planning for its new building for about two years. They purchased the Finn property, hired an architect and planner and has been moving forward. They are hoping to begin construction as early as this fall.

The remainder of the funding for the new library - estimates are an additional $1.5 million and possibly more - is through the library, not the township. Whether the building will be two or three floors depends on the needs of the township. Bieri said the library needs two floors but till build an additional floor if the township needs the space. That additional cost would be paid by the township.

Going forward Gerst said there has been a lack of communication between the Facilities Assessment Committee and the Library Board in the past. Gillian Hemstead, a member of the Library Board, said the board has been reaching out to the Facilities Assessment Committee. Board members have been attending the committee meetings but no committee members have come to the library's public meetings.

"Our library minutes are in your packet every month," she said. "Our meetings are open to the public. This is about this town. We're trying to do what's best for this town."

Doug Ott, also a member of the Library Board, agreed. He said the Library Board is committed to working together with the Facilities Assessment Committee.

"What's happened in the past, doesn't matter," said Ott. "Let's move forward."