MAPLEWOOD, NJ - Election Day will not only give Maplewood voters a chance to decide who serves on the Township Committee and the school board, but will also give the electorate a say in the $22 million Maplewood Library renovation.
Maplewood Library officials say nearly half of the funding needed for the Main Library renovation on Baker Street, which is set to begin next year, could come from a $125 million statewide bond referendum if it’s approved by voters on Tuesday.
“This bond measure is a game-changer,” said Kate McCaffrey, president of the Maplewood Memorial Library Board of Trustees. “If this bond referendum passes, and it looks good, then we’re in an excellent position because we are so far along on our planning.”
The referendum would provide funds for library improvement projects statewide, with plans to match local funds dollar-for-dollar, according to McCaffrey. If the measure is approved, state officials would still have to decide which projects get the cash.
But McCaffrey believes the Maplewood project, which has been in the planning stages for several years, is in a good position to garner nearly $10 million in state funds.
“We’re very well-positioned because of the strength of our project, where we are in terms of the organization and the political capital,” she said. “If (Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil) Murphy wins, which it looks like he will, we have a strong connection with Murphy and our local organization.”
The Maplewood Library Foundation, the fundraising arm of the library, is planning to launch a capital campaign in 2018 that hopes to raise at least $3 million of the $22 million estimated cost via donations, leaving the remaining $19 million for the Township to provide.
If the state referendum passes and Maplewood is chosen to receive part of its funding, that could mean up to $9.5 million in state funds that would match $9.5 million provided by the Township.
Township Committee members have already discussed plans to borrow their portion of the cost via bonds that would be issued sometime next year.
“The library renovation and expansion plans are exciting and inspiring,” Maplewood Mayor Vic Deluca said via email. “Our community needs a library for the future and this is it. It is a major investment but one we can handle with an infusion of state funding. I am a strong supporter of the library bond question on next Tuesday's ballot.”
The library renovation planning dates back to Spring 2016 when 39 firms responded to a request seeking potential designs for the project, which led to 10 firms interviewed and three finalists selected. Sage and Coombe of New York City were selected in the Fall of 2016 and recently released plans and artists renderings of what the new library will look like.
Maplewood Library Director Sarah Lester has said the main branch would be closed for about 18 months to allow for the renovations, but programs would continue at the Hilton Branch library and other local buildings and locations.
The general plan is to add at least 15,000 square feet to the main library, which first opened in 1955, and is seen as too small for the many uses that now go beyond just books and research materials, to meeting spaces, wireless and internet access, and even art displays and performances.
During its research, Sage and Coombe found data that indicates most residents use the library more than in the past and for many more reasons.
The firm's research showed:
- 15% of Maplewood homes do not have internet access. Residents engage in 180 public computer sessions daily at the libraries, 56,932 in 2016 and 165 wireless connections each day, 51,840 in 2016.
- About 100 new library cards are registered each month.
- In 1969, when the last renovation expansion was done, there were 11,276 cardholders in town, about 45% of the population. Today there are 20,014, or 84%.
- The volume of material has grown from 36,300 items in 1955, when the main branch opened, to 60,550 in 1969, when the last addition was done, to 95,160 today.
Ben Cohen, President of the Maplewood Library Foundation spoke at the Library Conceptual Design presentation about the importance of the renovation, emphasizing that the current library no longer meets the needs of the community in either size or function.
"The time to do this is now," said Cohen.