BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - A recent Letter to the Editor published in TAPinto Berkeley Heights authored by resident Stephen Yellin regarding the Library's temporary move to the Little Flower Rectory provoked a reaction by Mayor Bob Woodruff and former Councilman Kevin Hall at last week's Berkeley Heights Township Council meeting.
The letter's headline read: "Closing Berkeley Heights Library Will Hurt Our Town."
This letter was in response to statements made at the July 18 council meeting when Councilman Marc Faecher provided a status report regarding the land transaction between the Township and the Church of the Little Flower before he introduced an ordinance authorizing the Use and Occupancy Agreement with the Church of the Little Flower. The ordinance would authorize the Library's temporary use and occupancy of the Rectory and permit Little Flower to lease the larger building on the property after the closing [anticipated for year's end] of the land transaction between the Township and the Church of the Little Flower is complete.
In his statement, Faecher explained the Library's move to the Rectory would allow the library to maintain an operational presence, with significant services being offered.
He also said the use and occupancy agreement covers, post closing, the Little Flower Church staying in the larger buildings where they conduct worship and educational classes. He confirmed the church is fully responsible for maintaining the property and will defend, indemnify and hold the Township harmless for the use of the properties. He said the short term lease is for seven months for a monthly rent of $2,000.
Faecher said, "After that seven month period, we would envision that the development of that property would start to begin with developers starting to look at the feasibility of building on there, demolishing structures, etcetera."
What needed clarification is the fact the Library's use of the Rectory would be part of the negotiations of the RFP between developers, allowing the Libarary to stay in the Rectory until the completion of the new Municipal Complex.
At the August 15 Council meeting, Mayor Woodruff asked former Councilman Kevin Hall, who acts as a volunteer liaison between the council and parties involved in the municipal redevelopment project, to provide the facts behind the Library's move.
Hall explained, "One of the benefits of doing this project under redevelopment allows us to structure the RFP for builders to come up with the most creative way to keep the Rectory operational for as long as possible until the new Library is ready." In stating that, he said there is no guarantee that there will be no downtime, "but [this option] allows us to accept the best overall proposal, not simply the cheapest."
Hall addressed Yellin's letter stating the Public Library's move to the Rectory "only keeps the Library at the Rectory for seven months. At that point, the Township is free to close the Library completely – and it will have to, in order to sell the entire church property to the housing developer."
Hall said Yellin's statement is not true. "The lease applied to the Church of the Little Flower does not relate to the Library," he said. He also reminded everyone the Library is "independent" and can only be closed permanently by "an Ordinance."
Library Director Stephanie Bakos explained the Library will close for a short time to prepare the Rectory for the Library. "There will be some demo and wiring" to be done and "at the end of the process, the library will be closed [again] when we move into our new, beautiful, rectangular library." That, too, could be a three-week closure.
Councilman Faecher also said, "We'll do our best to keep the Library open as long as possible in the Rectory."
"The Rectory solution is a cost effective way to keep the library in the neighborhood until the new library opens for business," he said.
Mayor Bob Woodruff addressed rumors after the publishing of Yellin's letter in an interview with Library Director Stephanie Bakos in the August edition of the Mayor's Round Table.
The Mayor's Round Table August edition can be viewed below, the library discussion begins at marker 11:27.
Bakos has been the Library Director since 1989, and she said that in 1990, two members from Little Flower came and said they wanted the library. "I have been holding my breath since 1990 for something to happen," she said.
"We've been kept in the loop -- the [Library] building is an important part of it [the land transaction between the Township and the Church of the Little Flower]," Bakos said.
We have been working with the council -- [Councilman Mark Faecher and former Councilman Kevin Hall] to set up the guidelines, she said.
In Woodruff's interview with Bakos, he said the Library's rights and concerns were addressed through the Library's council that has played an important part, together with Bakos and the Library Board, in determining how we will continue to service the residents of Berkeley Heights. Bakos agreed with that statement. --- "Finally, everyone can take a deep breath and start working -- how much we can move into the Rectory and how practical we can make it," Bakos said.
Bakos started looking for property to lease two years ago, "and there weren't many rental property options in Berkeley Heights," she said. They are extremely expensive by Bakos' standards, having never paid rent. -- And most important, "we were looking for good lighting, good parking -- we had standards of course." They were also looking for property close to Columbia School because they do a lot of work with the school. "The rectory became our best option," said Bakos.
While this is an inconvenience for the Library, Bakos does not feel this is an eviction, as Yellin's opinion letter stated.
The current library wasn't built to be a library -- the meeting room is well hidden and being two stories makes it hard to be ADA compliant -- that will all be eliminated in the new space, said Bakos.
We have a lot to get through before we walk in the [Rectory] doors in December, she said.
Yellin made the following statement in response to comments made at last week's council meeting. "I commend the governing body for resolving the concerns expressed by many residents - concerns which motivated me to write my letter - in bringing clarity to its plan to keep the Public Library open at the rectory of Church of the Little Flower. This is not and should not be a 'political' issue; those who attended to meeting to speak on this issue had the same motivation as the governing body, which is to ensure our community does the best it can for all that we can.
As for the comments made towards me by the Mayor and Mr. Hall, I would urge residents to compare their recorded remarks with what I actually wrote in my letter, as well as the minutes of the July 18th Council meeting which impelled me to write it, and decide whether their response was appropriate. For my part, I am grateful to the residents who defended my sincerity in wishing to keep the public informed on issues of concern, and I will continue to do so in future."
Residents are urged to get in touch with Township's Business Administrator John Bussiculo when you have questions at 908-464-2700 x2232. If you have questions about the library, address them to Library Director Stephanie Bakos at email@example.com or call (908)464-9333.