Written by Carol Frank Friday, 04 November 2011 00:00
Steady, heavy voting of 4,210 residents last Tuesday was a demonstration of the community’s concern about the Main library and its future. From talking with numerous people before and after the election, it became clear that the “No” votes, 2,924, were not anti-library votes per se, but rather reflected a range of concerns about the scope and cost of the project and the decision-making prowess of the library board to cope with an expansion project. So, in spite of busy parking lots, lines to vote and even a switch to paper ballots when the machines were full, voters were determined to be heard.
In all of the Record’s discussions with members of the public before and after the vote, we never heard anyone say that there is no need for renovation, but there was much confusion and disagreement about the need for expansion.
The Record met with library director Jane Marino on Friday to discuss her “read” of the vote. Ms. Marino said, “I think all of us have learned some important lessons from the vote. Clearly, we are not as connected to the public as we need to be.” She said that the informational meetings were “abysmally attended” which was quite disappointing to her. She is open to a new approach for communicating with the public about the building and for getting input from members of the community who have expertise in design, construction, finance, etc. Ms. Marino will be making a recommendation to the trustees in a specially called meeting for Nov. 1 that an advisory committee be formed to assist the board in moving forward.
Phase 1 of the contract with DattnerArchitects is completed and must now be re-negotiated. She believes that they are an excellent firm and that they will be more than able to take a fresh look at the space in the existing footprint to develop a plan.
Ms. Marino stated, “No matter what...we must move forward.” She reflected on the fact that many libraries on Long Island did not receive voter approval for major capital projects the first time out. Manhasset had three referendums before gaining approval for their new library and Syosset had two.
She described a process that sounds similar to zero based budgeting whereby space requirements start at the beginning and build, function by function. For example, how much space would be needed to bring the building into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and so forth. Ms. Marino said, “I know we have some wasted space here currently that could be utilized more effectively, but even with the growing use of ebooks, I firmly believe that children need the physicality of books for their development.” Ms. Marino’s professional background includes expertise as a children’s librarian and she is passionate about the need for more space for the children’s section at the library.
In spite of the vote outcome, Ms. Marino came across in a very positive and pragmatic manner.
Legally, the board could choose to re-submit the defeated bond issue to the public again within a 60-day period. A trustees meeting scheduled for Nov. 1 will be dedicated to a discussion of what to do next.
Co-chairperson of the 21st Century Committee, which lobbied for a “Yes” vote, Charlotte Schwartz said, “Of course we’re disappointed that the referendum didn’t pass. We just hope that everyone understands that the building is in need of major repairs and will require that money be spent to take care of it. Our group has not met since the election and are waiting to see what direction the library board trustees will take.” She indicated that she hopes the community will pull together to come up with a plan that can have broad support.
Ralene Adler, a former trustee and a member of the Watchdog group that lobbied for a “No” vote said, “I promised that I would support an initiative to totally renovate the existing space and I will. It should have all the environmental enhancements in place as well as a safer parking lot...We have an opportunity to do it right.” She went on to add that the amount estimated for Plan A (within the existing footprint) had never been fleshed out at the time and now three years have passed since it was first proposed. She indicated that it would have to be revisited and fully vetted. Further, she added that before another plan comes for a vote, she would support the idea of having a schematic plan and a model to present to the public so that they “can better visualize what they’re voting for...if it’s more expensive to do that, so be it.”
Ms. Adler said that in the next proposal, she would support having an “owner’s rep” also known as a project manager to oversee the entire construction project even though it adds to the cost. She also supports “minimal closing,” an issue that she believes worried patrons, and she believes that the “community needs to start participating....we have to do this together.” In addition, she says that the board will need to “provide some real leadership and meet weekly” to remount an effort.
Just for comparison, since 1989, the number of people voting in the school budget and library budget votes has ranged from 1200 to 2600. Most of those operating budgets were approved by 71 to 83 percent.
The exception was in 1994 when there were 2 propositions on the ballot as well as both operating budgets. In that year 4,938 people voted. The school district proposed a bond for capital projects which was overwhelmingly approved and the library proposition was to change the legal status of the library to a school library instead of an association library. That proposition was overwhelmingly defeated.
(Editor’s note: Since we go to press on Monday mornings, we will not be able to report on the newly scheduled trustees meeting set for Tuesday, Nov. 1 until next week. So, at this writing, we do not know how it will go. But it is our hope that in the coming weeks and months, the community can come together and begin an exciting new chapter at the library. We are reminded of what President John F. Kennedy often said, “You must always leave the way open for conciliation.” - CF)