Written by Carol Frank Friday, 19 August 2011 00:00
It was almost midnight at the end of a raucous meeting when the Great Neck Library Board of Trustees cast their votes, 5 for and 2 against, to pin down the amount to be bonded for a renovated and expanded main library. The amount approved to be covered under the bonding will not exceed $20.8 million. The actual estimated cost for the renovation/expansion is $21.8 million. The difference will be paid out of the main building reserve fund.
The board majority also approved to levy a tax payable in annual installments not to exceed $1,760,000 for a maximum period of 20 years to repay the bond. This would be in addition to money that is approved every year by the public to operate the entire library system.
Bond counsel for the board advised that they calculate a 5.75 percent interest rate as a maximum rate not to exceed.
It was this point that caused trustee Josie Pizer to balk and vote against the amount to be bonded. She told the Record, “If interest rates did go that high, I would want to take another look at the project itself.”
The public will have the final say in a bond referendum on Oct. 25, a date that was recently set by the board. Once that date was set the clock began to tick with legal built-in guidelines for making information public. Although the deadline for coming up with a final cost estimate for the building is August 25, it became apparent that the board was going to discuss and vote on the latest estimates from Park East Construction, the management firm hired by the board to oversee the project, as well as add alternatives or extras that had been recommended by DattnerArchitects in 2009...all in one evening.
Included in the budget is $75,000 to pay for the administrative costs involved in ending up with a building that is LEED certified, (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) the nationally accepted benchmarks for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings.
The add alternatives were 8 items, most of which were energy or water saving features.
President Janet Esagoff said, “First, I’m going to poll the board. If more than one member wants to fully discuss these alternatives, we will discuss them before we vote on them.” It was at this point that the meeting became more out of control when public members realized that there would be no orderly presentation of the pros and cons of the add-alternatives.
The first item was a roof system to capture rainwater so that it could be used for irrigation of the property. Trustee Anna Kaplan asked the consultants if this item would be “minimal points” under the LEED certification and was told that there would not be many points. Former trustee Norman Rutta interjected at this point that the board should be asking for the cost benefits of the items...”not just what it will cost you, but what it will it save you in operating costs...water bills, energy bills.” The public buzz became, “How can they vote without understanding what they’re voting on?”
All of the options that dealt with a green roof and water conservation were voted down.
Even the option for the solar panels was initially voted down along with a radiant heating slab for the children’s library space; however, after public protests regarding these two items, the board did a revote and these items were approved. Elizabeth Allen sarcastically commented, “You’re voting down all of the environmentally friendly items...way to go guys.”
The recommendation to install an open loop geo-thermal system for heating and air-conditioning would have cost over $1 million and was up for discussion. The Record informed the board that such an installation is not permitted by the Water Authority of Great Neck North as those systems are not regulated by any state agency and have the potential of contaminating the aquifer which supplies much of Great Neck with its drinking water.
The only other big ticket item that was approved was the outdoor cooling tower at a cost of $485,657. This item would be paid for out of the main building reserve fund and reduces the total cost of the bond.
The board also approved the alternative for a helical pile which is a method of drilling to expand the foundation that causes less vibrations and reduces noise. The cost estimate for this item is $86,314.
Although bird friendly windows, designed to reduce bird fatalities, was discussed at the Town of North Hempstead’s site review, there was no cost estimate to consider as the board had never directed any of its consultants to determine the various cost options.
There was also no information regarding how much a sloped floor auditorium would cost either. The public was informed that a decision about the floor would not be made until after the referendum when the project will enter its “Design 2” stage.
The budget contains a total of $1,442,986 for contingencies with a 3 percent escalation clause.
Throughout the meeting, Trustee Marietta DiCamillo protested the lack of information and the rush to vote despite unanswered questions. She abstained from all the votes on the add alternatives because the financial and environmental benefits had not been analyzed...saying, “There should have been one meeting devoted to the add-on alternatives.” She clarified her “no” vote for the bond after meeting. “Consideration has never been given to the concept of permanently relocating certain departments to the expanded Station Branch which has approximately 4,000 additional square feet. This would result in freeing up space in the Main building.” Ms. DiCamillo has also been asking for estimates of operating costs for a building with an additional 8,000 square feet of space. According to staff, that is impossible to estimate; however, it is not anticipated that additional staff will be needed.
The amount budgeted for the relocation of Main and Levels is $250,000. This does not include the cost for storage of the permanent collection. The cost for storage and collection relocation is $125,000. The cost for furnishings and equipment in a new building is slated to cost $1.3 million. There is no plan in place currently regarding the relocation of Levels or the Local History department.
Business manager Neil Zitofsky had recommended that the board could take $1 million from the operating budget during the time that Main would be closed (2013) and apply it to the cost of a new building to reduce the amount to be bonded. Questions were raised about the risk involved in such a move, if say, the operating budget were voted down. There were also questions about the impact of reducing the operating budget during construction and how the state mandated 2 percent cap on increasing budgets would be affected if at all.
After the meeting The Record asked library director, Jane Marino, if public meetings will be scheduled to answer questions about the project and to hear any concerns from the public. She said that no meetings are planned. The public can review information on the website, email questions and will receive mailers from the library.