FLEMINGTON, NJ - While all branches of the Hunterdon County Library System remain closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, plans for improved facilities, technology, educational and audience accommodations took shape May 5 as the freeholder board authorized the Hunterdon County Library to apply for a $1.961 million New Jersey Library Construction grant (bond application).

Infrastructure plans start with a new training lab, increasing meeting room spaces and technology and a Makerspace studio featuring 3-D design, coding tools, audio and video, design art, fabric arts and other upgrades for the county library headquarters in Flemington.

Of the grant amount, the State of New Jersey is contributing 50 percent of funds, $980,837. Hunterdon County’s matching grant amount of $980,837 would be comprised of $340,000 in dedicated trust money for the library project.

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According to Hunterdon County Administrator Kevin P. Davis, the county allocation of funding is $640,000, one-third the total cost.

The county does not need to borrow (bond) the amount to cover its share of the library project. The bond application reflects the state’s potential way of providing its 50 percent funding share.

County Library Director James Keehbler addressed the freeholder board to explain the concepts for improvements for library physical spaces and services. At present, two meeting rooms exist at the Flemington Library (Rt. 12) headquarters, but one meeting/program room, in the library’s front left wing, has a capacity of 84 people.

Its smaller program room holds just eight people.

Creating one more full-fledged meeting room that would hold 40 people with a screen for presentations is a goal in upgrading the library as some community groups and county organizations were unable to host programs and meetings due to space limitations at headquarters. The new room would provide such space and uses including opportunities for music, film, lectures and other programs.

Two small group study rooms as well as quiet reading/study rooms are another priority outlined for the county’s main library with this grant.

“We currently don’t have small rooms for people in groups of four to six to talk, whether small businesses, ESL teachers or tutoring sessions,” Keehbler said. “Another interest that came across in surveys and focus groups is for a truly quiet space to come and read inside the library. The quiet rooms would be equipped with electrical and USB outlets for devices and independent work space. There would also be natural lighting to create a desirable and comfortable area of the library for concentration and quiet reading.”

Keehbler explained that Hunterdon County Library aims to create a hands-on training environment within the library (a training lab) where residents can spend time on various workforce-preparation and job seeking activities. He said the library will be offering enhanced group dynamics and settings, “where residents can work together to find better job opportunities, prepare resumes and write cover letters, with expanded computer and technology training on-site.”

This same area of the library would be utilized as a flexible Makerspace for students to engage in activities involving 3-D design work, robotics, coding activities, automation projects and other uses. Keehbler said the Makerspace would be supported by an HCLS teen librarian.

In the past year, the county system also designated a small business and nonprofit resource librarian to actively run nonprofit and small business incubator programs. Those professional workshops, nonprofit guidance, marketing opportunities and events would shift to the Makerspace area of the library once the project is complete.

Keehbler adds that the Makerspace would also support organizations, including Hunterdon County 4-H, the home school network, Girl Scouts and Girls Who Code chapters, as well as the Tri-county (Hunterdon County, Somerset County and Mercer County) STEM Ecosystem Consortium.

“This grant is a great opportunity to bring funding to the county and we’re excited about this grant opportunity with hopes that we can better meet the needs of our residents,” Keehbler said. “Our design plan was decided by the community as we held various ‘community conversation’ focus groups and an extensive public survey. If we’re successful in this grant application, our facilities will be better able to serve small businesses, nonprofits, job seekers, students, community organizations and any residents seeking a quiet place to read or work.”

Also at the May 5 meeting, the freeholders approved new self checkout kiosks for the Hunterdon County Library, which will be purchased as a $103,342.44 contract from SHI International Corp. of Somerset County.

“As we talked about in the Freeholders’ budget committee, this investment allows us to update technology with book/materials tags,” freeholder director Shaun C. Van Doren said. “The new scanners will be able to read both existing and any new (RFID) book tags.”

Keehbler noted that HCLS will cover 50 percent of the cost of the kiosks. The purchase also adds social distancing measures to the library.

"It's an opportunity in the current environment and we feel it is a good investment, which would enhance our ability to open our doors,” he said. “The way these are designed, users do not use any wands or any instrument, they would scan their library card and books or materials to receive a receipt. This increases security for materials, while increasing speed and efficiency for patrons.”

In explaining benefits of the 1:1 matching grant available through the state, with the ability to interweave a cost-saving and energy-efficient upgrade of LED lighting into Hunterdon Library, Keehbler lauded the opportunity for Hunterdon to receive funding to improve library services and settings for residents.

“In the 50-50 match, half the cost of LED would be covered by the state and it will save us money from an annual basis,” he said. “The LED as well as longer life to bulbs would reduce costs for manual replacement of bulbs in the library over time. In particular, the lower level of County Library HQ Flemington Library can be dark as the space does lack windows.”

Freeholder Zach Rich, the board's liaison to the County Library System, made the motion to approve this item. He said that the proposed upgrades are a fantastic project and potential economic boost at a critical time for the county and state.

“There is a great deal with this project, including enhancing library space for modern users to saving money with environmentally-friendly lighting, and creating a construction project that can put people to work,” he said. “Two-thirds of the project costs come from the state grant and the library’s trust account, and we cross our fingers that it gets worked out.”

On other contracting news, Hunterdon County government headquarters in the heart of Flemington Borough, will undergo a roofing restoration project. The board also approved a contract of $269,101.25 to Weatherproof Technologies, Inc. for the roofing project.

The subcontractor on the project is Lambertville-based Strober-Wright Roofing company.

“This is a restoration project that will extend the life of the building’s existing roof as it had some leaks observed,” Davis said. “A true project to tear off the roof and put a new one on this Main Street facility would cost millions of dollars, while this restoration would extend the roofing 10 to 15 years without going through the major repairs of roof replacement.”