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Library Board Abandons Expansion, Embraces Working Within Footprint

Last Tuesday, approximately 100 residents attended the meeting of the Great Neck Library Board of Trustees in which the board listened to a host of speakers from the audience and then passed a resolution to abandon Plan D, the bond for which was overwhelmingly defeated on Oct. 25. All trustees were present with four trustees, DiCamillo, Pizer, Marcus and Sokol voting for the resolution. Trustees Kaplan, Esagoff and Solomon abstained.

The motion to adopt a building plan that would renovate the Main library at its existing footprint (approximately 47,000 square feet) was adopted with trustees DiCamillo, Pizer, Marcus and Sokol voting for it. Trustee Solomon voted against it and Esagoff and Kaplan abstained.

President Janet Esagoff stated, “I’m open to all options going forward...We are starting over.” Later in the meeting she stated that she favored an advisory committee of the public to develop a survey to find out more specifically what residents want. Trustee Martin Sokol stated, “The public has spoken and I want you to know that I heard you loud and clear.”

The first question posed by Steve Walk was whether or not monies spent for the zoning approval would be wasted. Director Jane Marino gave a detailed, obviously researched answer, summing up, “Changes that reduce the scope from the original without material changes will not trigger another hearing of the zoning board. The traffic studies, environmental work and so forth that has been done will not be wasted. We’ll still get the benefit of that work.”

Norman Rutta read a statement with his analysis of what the vote represented. He believes that the vote means that the public wants a renovation within the existing footprint, wants closure minimized, and wants renovation done in stages and utilization of branches for certain space requirements. He would like to see a blue ribbon panel established composed of real estate and construction professionals to advise the library board as it moves forward. His other suggestion was the formation of a library “friends” program that could raise money, aside from taxpayer support, to enhance the library.

He also suggested that trustees with other demands on their time or distractions from functioning on the board should step down. He said in conclusion that he would support a sensible renovation as “energetically as I opposed this past bond referendum.”

Retired librarian Valerie Feinman spoke in defense of books. “Not everyone can use Kindles...I have a detached retina and can’t use them...we still need books.” She, along with a number of other speakers, defended the need for libraries and its role as a community and socialization center for all generations.

Stu Hochron said that he supports the library, but believes the vote shows that people want money spent “prudently.” He added that the reason people live in Great Neck is its proximity to New York City.

Michael Zarin was one of the few speakers who urged the board to resubmit the original bond to the public. He said, “There will never be a better time to reinvest in the infrastructure...low interest rates, low construction costs...we have high property values...we don’t want to destroy our property values.” He said that the opponents did a good job in getting the vote out, but he believes that the community is “now awake” and that the community should be allowed to vote again.

Don Dillion, an architect, stated that he has always voted for the  school and library budgets and that this last bond issue was the first time he had voted against a community project. He said, “I did so because I believed that the scope of the project seemed out of control...and I didn’t have much faith in the ability to control costs … I’m putting myself in your shoes...what will you do next? The  library needs help...it needs the participation of the whole community... In the face of what has happened the process must be re-examined before putting it out to the public again. Take the project back to its bones...reassess the needs of the library and prioritize them and try to put a budget number on it. You must develop a rational plan that can be supported by the public. I don’t want the job, but I believe you need a project manager who is independent and who is dedicated to you.” He explained that project managers have set fees...their fees are not tied to the total cost of the project. He volunteered to serve on a committee to assist the library.

Ofra Penzer suggested that the library needs to “re-imagine” how space is used based on ever advancing technology and changes in the way students learn. She did not favor a fixed seat auditorium at the library as nearby schools have auditoriums that could be used for larger community library sponsored events.

Elizabeth Allen urged the board to “just start moving forward...let’s talk about tomorrow, not yesterday.”

Another patron added, “We need to develop a library for the future...It’s not an easy task, but that is your job.”

Director Jane Marino said that she had spoken with Daniel Heuberger, the lead architect for the project, and he had advised that the board go back to the document they developed in 2008, the Request for Proposals (RFP) and “take a hard look at what the needs were then and what we need now.” She went on to say that in talking with an expert on rebuilding libraries at a conference she recently attended, it was suggested that it is important to tap into the expertise of a community in building projects for a “fresh set of eyes.”

Concerns were expressed that a survey would only delay moving forward, but later Trustee Pizer stated that various approaches could go on concurrently.

There was a lengthy and rather confusing discussion by the board on the topic of advisory committees, their role and their composition. The matter was tabled for the next meeting.

The next meeting of the library board is Tuesday, Nov. 22 at the Parkville Branch, 10 Campbell Street, New Hyde Park. The time of the meeting is not posted yet.