Cranbury’s journey to have a stand-alone public library has been years in the making.
The new Cranbury Public Library building opened to residents and visitors following a grand opening on Nov. 19.
“We want this to be a town living room. We want everybody to come in and use it,” Cranbury Public Library Director Marilynn Mullen said, noting people who need a space for some quiet can use their quiet study rooms.
Mullen said teens, high school kids and adults can utilize the library study pods.
“We hope they take ownership of this area,” she said, adding it’s an area where people can read the newspaper and/or magazines, as well as hold in-person book groups and story times.
The ribbon cutting ceremony and grand opening was filled with all day festivities marking the completion of an all-out effort that involved the creation of the Cranbury Public Library Foundation in 2009, community input, private fundraising, state funding, and township acquisition of land.
“The new library is going to be so special for the town,” State Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-14) said, adding she predicts children and adults will be at the library all the time. “Seeing the crowd here today and how many people value the library is so important and says volumes about this town and their values.”
The one-story – close to 11,600 square-foot – new library building was built on a 14-acre parcel of land at 30 Park Place West.
The building provides the space that is needed for the library’s book collection, growing services, new programming and amenities, which the library did not have room for when they shared a location at The Cranbury School.
Inside the new building are meeting rooms, a creative space, the Swanagan Gallery, a teen area space with interactive games, an 80-person capacity large community meeting space, a computer area, and a lounge area for people to read books, newspapers, or magazines.
Mullen envisions the library not only to traditionally be used for taking out books, but also space used for programs, as well as after-hours community group meetings.
“Keys can be provided to community groups, they have to sign up,” Mullen said, adding they want the entire community to use the space.
There are also quiet study rooms, rows of books, a room space specifically for the Cranbury Historical and Preservation Society’s archives and materials, study pods and a children’s area.
“All these years of thinking about it, dreaming about it as a priority, to finally see it happen I am just very grateful that we got to this point,” said Kirstie Venanzi, president of the Cranbury Public Library Board of Trustees. “The new library was supported by so many in the community.”
She added that the building of the new library was a long process.
“Where you do a feasibility study, [we ask] ‘Can we fund this? OK, we don’t have the funds now, we have to go out and do some fundraising to do that. Bit by bit,” she said.
Right before walking into the children’s area, a section of the hallway displays Cranbury Artist Lisa Walsh’s mural artwork and the other side of the hallway features a quote “I shall find out thousands and thousands of things” as people enter the children’s area.
“She donated her time as something she wanted to do for the library. When they were still working in here, she would come in during October and paint every day,” Mullen said. “She did a wonderful job and had us choose the quote.”
Once in the space, there is a reading area that is surrounded by the library’s children collection of books.
The library building was possible with more than $2.3 million raised in private donations and fundraising through the Cranbury Public Library Foundation from 800 households and businesses,” Mullen said. “The Board of Trustees reserving funds through the years, and $2.39 million in state funds from the New Jersey Library Construction Bond Act (LCBA).
Since the library left their shared space location within the Cranbury School in 2020, library operations had been running out of a temporary pocket library at Odd Fellows Hall at 30 N. Main St. A second temporary location, which was not open to the public, was a back office in an office park on South Main Street.
The library Board of Trustees in fall 2020 welcomed the news that they received more than $2.3 million in state funds from the New Jersey Library Construction Bond Act (LCBA).
This funding allowed for the Board of Trustees to move ahead with the plans for a new library and cover the full cost of building the library.
At the time, the Cranbury Public Library project was one of 38 selected out of 139 applications in the first round of funding from the LCBA, and the first project to move ahead.
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.
LCBA co-sponsors in the state Senate and Assembly included Greenstein and Assemblyman Dan Benson (D-14).
“I knew many years ago that this was going to be a top priority for a town like Cranbury, because this is the kind of thing the people here value. Over the years, anytime I had the opportunity to try to push for funding, I was always thinking of Cranbury,” Greenstein said.
Greenstein added that she made lists of her priorities and always tried “to get Library money.”
The Library Board of Trustees had awarded the construction contract for the project to J. H. Williams Enterprises Inc. in 2021. The building’s completion was delayed during the summer due to supply chain issues, but stayed on track for the November grand opening.
“The grand opening was a culmination of years of hard work and perseverance. It was so special to listen to the bells ringing from the Town Hall cupola and be a part of the ribbon cutting ceremony,” Mayor Barbara Rogers said.
She noted that the new free-standing library truly lives up to its hype.
“When you enter the building, the view of the open space is striking. It fits beautifully into Cranbury’s historical and agricultural character,” Rogers said. “The entire space is welcoming to all ages. This is more than just a building, it’s a space for people to go, learn, exchange ideas, and create community.”