Written by Carol Frank Friday, 14 October 2011 00:00
Representatives from the 21st Century Committee who are advocating for passage of a bond issue that would renovate and expand the existing 47,000-square foot Main Library by 8,600-square feet met with this reporter last week in a two-hour meeting to outline the reasons for their support of the proposed project.
Mischa Schwartz, a former library board trustee and president, who co-chairs the committee with his wife Charlotte retraced the long history of the movement to renovate the library which began 20 years after it was first built in the late 1960s. Also present was Renee Zarin, who is a former trustee and president of the library board. Andrew Greene, who served one four-year term on the board and who chose not to run again last year provided more current information about the various rationales for decisions made by the board as it advanced this proposal. Steve Markowitz, who is president of the Great Neck Democratic Club, organized the meeting and attended. The publicity professional for the committee, Mark Katz, attended the meeting as well.
While the exact space allocations for a new and enlarged building are undecided since schematic drawings have not been drawn up, the committee members strongly believe that additional space is needed for the children’s library (almost double), a young adult section, audio-visual department as well as to bring the building into compliance with laws to make structures accessible for disabled persons. A large expanse of windows on the addition facing Udall’s Pond would take better advantage of the views.
Mr. Greene pointed out that the board considers the 8,600-square foot addition, a “modest increase in the size of the building...there are homes in Great Neck that have 8,000-square foot additions.”
He also likened the existing building to “a leaking Titanic” which has been “band-aided” since the late ’80s.
What came across from the entire group was a sense of “now or never.” There was a recounting of the years of effort, visiting other libraries in the Metro area, vetting the last architect on the scene, Dattner, moving the process through obtaining approvals with the Town of North Hempstead...hours of countless volunteer hours by a succession of board members. There is also a strong belief of committee members that, although it may be counter-intuitive in this recession with high unemployment and sluggish investments for those on fixed incomes, this is the time to build. Labor and material costs are expected to be lower; interest rates are lower and residents can expect to get more bang for the buck...at this point in time.
As Mr. Greene put it, “This is the last exit before the toll...if this bond doesn’t happen, we’ll have a crumbling building with money going down the drain..we’ll have closures (at Main) due to problems with air conditioning and heating.”
The Record also asked Mr. Greene about the decision of the current board on the matter of how to oversee a complicated and large project. Some multi-million dollar projects not only have a construction management firm to coordinate and supervise sub-contractors, but also hire what is called an “owner’s rep” to make sure that the owners, in this case the public, are not “ripped off.” Mr. Greene said that the board considered the extra layer of protection, but were advised by their former attorney and Park East, the board’s construction management firm, that the extra expense of 3 to 4 percent was unnecessary in this size project on Long Island. They were told that the work would be “duplicative” and would not be needed.
(In a separate interview with library direction Jane Marino regarding the issue of oversight, she said that Park East had come highly recommended from the Syosset Library director. That library’s construction project had run into serious problems and Park East had stepped in mid-stream to righten what had gone wrong.)
The Record raised the issue that had come up with library’s Finance Committee that had expressed concerns about bills from various consultants used to prepare for the zoning review by the Town. In some cases, they delayed payments because they thought they were being over-billed. Mr. Greene said that the board felt they could rely on their business manager and their director along with Park East to avoid such problems in the future.
This led to a discussion about criticisms raised by the Record in an editorial regarding the decision-making process of the library board as they made critical decisions to set the amount for the bond. None of the members of the 21st Century Committee had attended the August 9 meeting; however, the former board presidents noted that the often contentious meetings are difficult to run.
Mr. Markowitz stepped in to say, “This upcoming vote is about the project, not about the competence of the board...People can be voted off the board.” Mr. Greene said, “While your concerns are valid, they shouldn’t outweigh the project itself...We shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater....the board does turn over and we do have some newbies, but professionals will be in charge.”
The committee has raised money to promote the project via mailings to the community. The Record asked Mr. Markowitz if the Democratic party was donating money to the campaign and he answered an emphatic, “No,” stating that the referendum is not a partisan issue.
The 21st Century Committee urges you to vote for the future of the community by voting “Yes” on Oct. 25.