Cranbury Public Library project was one of 38 selected out of 139 applications, and the first project to move ahead
After years of fundraising, planning and completing state funding application documents, the dream of officially breaking ground on a new building for the Cranbury Public Library became a reality.
Joined by State Senator Linda Greenstein (D- Mercer, Middlesex), Assemblyman Dan Benson (D- Mercer, Middlesex), New Jersey State Librarian Jennifer Nelson, and Cranbury officials, the Cranbury Public Library Board of Trustees, administration and Cranbury Library Foundation ushered in this new era for the library at a groundbreaking ceremony on April 29.
The new library structure will be located at 30 Park Place West on a 14-acre parcel of land. The building will be within walking distance of the Cranbury School.
The Library Board of Trustees awarded the construction contract to J. H. Williams Enterprises, Inc. on April 8.
Construction for the project is anticipated to start within a month.
“I’m just feeling really grateful. Everybody has pitched in towards this effort. Libraries are an evolving entity and yes libraries are focal point to get knowledge, but they have been evolving to be community centers,” said Kirstie Venanzi, president of the Cranbury Public Library Board of Trustees. “It is very important that we have the history archives there. We are going to sponsor township meetings, we are going to have exhibits and we are going to wonder why we did not have it sooner.”
The proposed one-story library building would be close to 11,600 square feet and include a children’s area, teen area with laptop networking capability, adult section, an 80-person capacity large community meeting space, study rooms, gallery, a creative space, and an archive to hold the Cranbury Historical and Preservation Society’s files and materials, according to the Cranbury Public Library Foundation website.
“Services will definitely expand from right now. We really had to cut down, because we lost our shared space during COVID-19. We are in a temporary space right now and we are really small,” said Marilynn Mullen, director of the Cranbury Public Library. “We will be able to do more programs, because we will have a larger meeting room, and other spaces where people can get together. In our previous space we really did not have places for people to meet even in small groups. We hope that a lot of town organizations will use the new library for all of their meetings.”
She added that the historical archives would be available whenever the library is open when the project is completed and the archives are moved into the building.
“Also there will be a makerspace and we do not know yet what we will do with that now. We do know that whatever the technology is we can try it out there and have the children experimenting,” Mullen said. “We are going to have a special media table where people can hook up their computers and work together on projects. It won’t just be come in take a book and leave, which it tended to be in our last facility.”
The library’s Board of Trustees and administration had to find temporary locations to continue library business since they had to leave a shared space within the Cranbury School by Aug. 15 in 2020. The shared space location at the school had to be used as additional classroom space for the school and comply with social distancing requirements, according to the school administration and Board of Education.
Since 2020, library downtown operations have been running out of the Odd Fellows Hall at 30 N. Main St., which is also the home of PCB Home, a home décor and goods store. The library also has a second temporary location not open to the public at a back office location in an office park at 109 S. Main St.
“To finally have this groundbreaking is wonderful. I was overwhelmed giving my speech and have a wonderful staff with me who do so much,” Mullen said. “We have done a lot of new things since we are out of the school. We joined the Libraries of Middlesex Automation Consortium, which provides so many more electronic resources for our patrons and we have opened up all of the libraries that belong to this consortium to our patrons.”
In the fall of 2020, the library’s Board of Trustees received news that they would receive the $2.32 million in state funds the library applied for from the New Jersey Library Construction Bond Act (LCBA).
The LCBA was approved by New Jersey voters in a statewide referendum in 2017. The $125 million available through the LCBA provides funding for local library construction and renovation projects. The act’s co-sponsors in the State Senate and Assembly included Greenstein and Benson.
“Senator Greenstein, Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo and myself, when we sponsored the LCBA, Cranbury was at the top of our minds. We knew it was not only shovel-ready, but community-ready,” Benson said. “The enthusiasm, amount of private donations, and the amount of residents that took part in this I think really shows how important libraries are for the whole entire state. If it is going to work here in Cranbury – and as we see it now it has – imagine what this can do for the entire state.”
Jennifer Nelson, the NJ State Librarian, said during the ceremony that the Cranbury Public Library project was one of 38 selected out of 139 applications, and the first project to move ahead.
“To now be here and to see the first one that you thought would be the archetypal project for the bond act kind of gives you chills. This is the community’s library and community center,” Benson said.
The Cranbury Public Library was awarded funding from the first round of LCBA, which distributed $87.5 million in funds.
Private donations which had already been raised are in the amount of $2.4 million. The funds to match the grant have come from private fundraising through the Cranbury Public Library Foundation and the board of trustees reserving funds through the years for a new building.
The state grant gave the library a little more than $4.65 million in total funds for the standalone library. The funds raised and provided by the LCBA are expected to cover the full cost of the building.
“It has been a culmination of a lot of work. I think from when they had the idea to form the foundation 12 years ago the people of Cranbury just stepped up,” Cranbury Mayor Michael Ferrante said. “People helped in whatever way they could, whether it was funding, time, effort, expertise – they stepped up. If there is anything we learned from the pandemic it is the importance of gathering in person and have an environment like this where you can relax, read, learn and congregate. Libraries are more than books.”
The idea for a new building and space had been in the works for some time since the library Board of Trustees and administration surveyed residents in 2006. The survey had found that a vast majority of residents liked the library. Then a capital assessment of the town was conducted to see if it would be able to raise the money, which the assessment had confirmed.
The Cranbury Library Foundation was established in 2009 and had raised the more than $2 million in private donations since 2010.