New library in West Milford

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:55

    WEST MILFORD — Plans for a new library in West Milford remain unclear despite the apparent consensus from all involved that it is badly needed. The Library Board meets every month and, as has been the case for at least seven years, discuss ways to achieve their dream of a new and spacious library. Eugene Valenta, President of the Board of Trustees for the library, takes no time to pinpoint the main problem with the existing library, "It's the size. It's inadequate for the size of our town. Our children's room is too small and we don't have the space to provide facilities for meeting venues and extended programs." According to fellow board member Cornelia DeVries, "Money is actually our second obstacle, finding and settling on a location is the first." On the wall of the small room in the library where the meetings are held is an artist's drawing of the board's dream which can also be seen when you log on to the library's web site. It encompasses almost 19,500 square feet and has enough space for a significantly larger children's room, a teen room, reading room, exhibit space and many other specialized areas. Patricia Hannon, only two months into her position as the library director looks at the drawing and says "We should really take that picture off our web site." Hannon clearly finds the present situation unacceptable and is hoping for action soon. She said "It's desperately needed. We can't be meeting many standards." Why has the idea of a new library become a pipe dream? That depends on who is answering the question. Everything from a defeated referendum in 1998 to the current attitude of the board of education is blamed for the stagnant position the library finds itself in. Legal wrangling over the Wallisch property which was bequeathed by two brothers each providing one half of the land to the town council and the board of education on Lincoln Ave. has been the source of much of the debate. The library wanted to build their new complex on the site but as they, as part of the town council, only owns half of the land then the consent of the board of education is required. Town Clerk Kevin Byrnes who also serves as a library trustee failed to pull any punches in his opinion that the BOE has played in blocking development. Byrnes said "I've dealt with the board of ed for years and years and for an organization that's responsible for education in this town to have thwarted the efforts of the library board and trustees to build a public library for the benefit of the public in this town I find unconscionable." In response Glenn Kamp, Superintendent of West Milford School said "As an educator in the district for 34 years I know everyone in the education field would love a new library." Steve Cea, the board of education business administrator also defended the position of the school board saying "The rejection in the 1998 referendum as well as Highlands Act restrictions have held up plans for a new library. The school administration did not prevent a new library. We are perhaps a convenient scapegoat." Cea continued "As for the Wallisch property, we want to work a deal with the town council for the whole property, not just a deal that will leave the school board with a piece of property which is basically wetlands. We must maintain fiduciary responsibility to the school board." Another setback to the library's goal is Byrnes' retirement after 26 years on the library board which takes effect on September 30. There will be two vacancies due to an already open position. The library board hopes to present a case to the town council in the near future to integrate the efforts of both to find the best way forward.