East Brunswick council approves resolution supporting $1.75M library renovation project


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EAST BRUNSWICK–The Township Council approved a resolution endorsing the East Brunswick Public Library’s $1.75 million renovation project.

The Library Board of Trustees proposed improvements and renovations within the library facility, according to the council.

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The key elements of the improvements and renovations to the library include:

  • Replacement of the end-of-life HVAC system;
  • ADA-compliant children’s restrooms;
  • Improved children’s room lighting; and
  • Mechanized security window shades.

Although the total cost of the expansion and renovation plan is approximately $1.75 million, the trustees are filing a grant application with the state for 50% of construction costs, or approximately $875,000, according to the council.

The council approved the concept plan, anticipating a contribution of $875,000 in township capital funds towards the 50% match required for the state grant, according to the council.

“This resolution is just a resolution of support, meaning you’re supporting the application to the library grant funds from the State of New Jersey. We have not received the grant money [which] outlines the projects, the amount of the grant request, and the amount that the township is willing to match; we just want to be clear that we did not receive the grant,” Business Administrator Joseph Criscuolo said.

With a 4-1 vote, the council approved the resolution placing formally on the record its commitment to this project, which includes assurance of a stable alternative funding source, such as municipal bonding in the event that other funding is not approved, on May 24 during the council meeting via video conference.

Councilman Dinesh Behal, Council President Sharon Sullivan, Councilman Michael Spadafino and Councilman Kevin McEvoy voted “yes.” Councilman James Wendell voted “no.”

Before the resolution was approved, East Brunswick Public Library Acting Director Michael Babish spoke about the history of the project and the library’s plans to get it partially funded.

About a year ago, Babish said former Library Director Melissa Kuzma presented plans to the council for an ambitious library renovation project where funds became available through the New Jersey Library Construction Bond Act.

“It was like a once-in-a-generation opportunity where $125 million was made available across the state to either build expand or rehabilitate libraries. We came up with a very ambitious plan for not only interior renovations but expansion, and while it was a well-designed plan we didn’t get awarded the funding, unfortunately,” Babish said. “When we look back and kind of do the post mortem we realized that the approved plans across the state tended to focus on infrastructure improvements to buildings, and it largely benefited municipalities with high socio-economic need, not exclusively but overall.”

Babish said the state announced a second application round in March of this year. Only $37.5 million remains with the original $125 million, with $10 million earmarked in repair-only projects.

“We decided that we want to apply for round two funding and … we’ve scaled back our application significantly to focus on the infrastructure improvements that proved successful in the first round,” Babish said.

Going over the renovations and what the library is looking to do, Babish said the library wants to replace its end-of-life HVAC system that only had about a 20-year shelf life and is now over at this point. The library wants to replace it with an energy-efficient model that can filter out and sanitize airborne particulates, including those that have coronavirus (COVID-19).

“We also wish to expand our youth services restrooms and make that barrier-free per New Jersey code. Right now they are not and for those of you who have visited the library recently … you know that those restrooms can hardily fit a wheelchair or stroller and as a parent with two young children, that’s something that you always look for when you’re in a youth services room,” Babish said.

Babish said the library also wants to increase the brightness of the children’s area by adding more LED lighting and replacing the ceiling panel; and the mechanized black out shades would be twofold: part of it is energy efficiency and it would also help in security, unfortunately, if there ever were an active shooter scenario.

“Last year when Kuzma had made her case before the town council, the council approved $4.35 million. We’re only asking … for $875,000 for a total cost project cost of $1.75 million,” Babish said. “This project would serve as phase one to a larger renovation that would happen in the children’s area, that would be funded via library reserves, as well as a capital campaign by our foundation.”

For phase two of the project, Babish said the library is going to be doing almost all the contributions.

“We don’t know if phase two is going to happen. We can’t worry about tomorrow, we’ve got to worry about today, that’s my thought. I don’t see any contribution coming from the library board, the library, the Friends of the Library or anything … this is zero out of pocket done for the library and all on the municipal,” Wendell said.

“The library [has] contributed and originally the plan was to redo the entire children’s area, which does need to be done, and that’s going to be a hefty price tag as well. That’s actually going to be born through library funds that they already have in fund balances, and the foundation’s contribution,” Mayor Brad Cohen said. “We don’t have an estimate on how much that’s going to be, but it’s not going to be insignificant. We divided into the building, part that was building related which was always a town responsibility, and the other which was actually library responsibility.”

Wendell said he thinks the council needs to see the phase one and two plans to better understand what’s being done.

When it came time to cast his vote, Wendell voted “no.”

“I’m going to vote ‘no,’ only because I’m tired this 11th hour. We were given no time, we were given no heads up on this and yes this showed up on my desk on [May 21] but, where’s the backup, where’s all the information and why didn’t anybody come to us, a week or two ago to explain this to us and tell us what was going on. I mean … we don’t even have any time to deliberate on this. It’s bothersome and it’s got to stop,” Wendell said.

For more information, visit www.eastbrunswick.org/129/Agendas-Minutes or www.ilove.ebpl.org/contact-us.

Contact Vashti Harris at vharris@newspapermediagroup.com.

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