Written by Carol Frank Thursday, 20 June 2013 00:00
Marietta DiCamillo, library board president and chairp of the building advisory committee, emphasizes that this time around the process for preparing and presenting a plan for a renovated library is “totally different” from previous failed attempts. A target date of July 23 has been set to present a conceptual plan to the entire board of trustees at a public meeting. A November referendum is also targeted.
In October of 2011, the community resoundingly defeated a proposed $20.8 million referendum to renovate and expand the Main building of the Great Neck Library system.
Following that defeat, the board moved quickly to hold a well-attended public meeting during which residents gave feedback to a board that needed to understand why the bond issue had failed. Di Camillo said: “We got a clear message from the public and that has guided us in moving forward ... Our first decision was to fully renovate the building within its current footprint.”
The board established a volunteer building advisory committee (BAC) composed of a diverse range of individuals who represented the public-at-large, some who favored the expansion and others who did not; construction professionals; library professionals and members of the board of trustees.
Over a period of months, the committee discussed and came to agreement on certain basic principles. First, the committee members set forth a goal to keep the budget for a renovated building in the range of $10 million. In the past, the library board had never really set financial limits on architectural firms in developing plans ... and clearly the public had resented a sky’s-the-limit approach.
The close involvement of library professionals in the development of plans also kept the committee focused on rapidly evolving changes in technology and patrons’ usage patterns. The committee has stressed the need to keep spaces flexible to allow for changing needs.
Another tenet agreed upon by BAC members was to maximize the prime views of Udalls Pond for the public.
How space could be used most efficiently and effectively, keeping aesthetics in mind, took a great deal of time. For example, after lengthy investigations into whether to keep the mezzanine or not, members recommended that the space be kept, but re-purposed. The committee also considered moving certain behind-the-scenes support operations to the Station Branch, but eventually decided to keep those departments at Main.
A major stumbling block in the 2011 referendum was the estimate that it would take a two-year closing of Main to complete an expansion and renovation. The BAC members have been mindful of that controversial topic; however, since no expansion is being proposed and since a four-month preparatory phase for ordering and staging construction materials is recommended (during which Main would be open), it is estimated that any closure would be less than a year.
While the committee has considered doing the work in phases and meanwhile keeping portions of the library open, they are carefully considering the fact that doing it in stages would result in potential safety issues and would increase the time and cost. Keep in mind that library patrons will not be bereft during that time; there are three branches throughout Great Neck.
The last time around, the idea to install a sloped auditorium for the community room was a topic that the board never definitively addressed. People went to vote on the referendum not knowing whether the plan included a sloped floor or not. Some patrons wanted it; others did not. This time the committee has decided that moving the community room to the main floor, enlarging it and designing the entrance so that meetings could be held there even when the library is closed would be an improvement.
DiCamillo added: “Given that excavating for a sloped floor on the ground level, so close to Udalls Pond with the possibility of water problems, might end up with unexpected costs and delays ... we decided that it wouldn’t be practical. However, we want to work out alternatives for seating that will improve visibility.”
“Of necessity, we are committed to upgrading our infrastructure ... so far, the best estimate is that it will take $5 million just to do that,” she said. “Fortunately, the cooling tower that was installed last year can be used in a renovated building.” New windows, doors, wiring, plumbing, heat and air conditioning and removal of any hazardous substance, such as asbestos, are givens. The exterior of the building would be cleaned and repaired.
And there is no question about making bathrooms handicapped accessible, pathways to the building safer and continuing to provide a gathering place for cultural and community events, a haven for children and families and a dynamic center, Levels, for teens to create, perform and learn.
The committee also agreed that their process would be as transparent as possible. Minutes from their meetings are posted online and their meetings have been open to the public with the exception of interviews with potential architects. The BAC has reported back to the board of trustees on a regular basis.
“When the time comes, we want the public to vote on a budget and a renovation that they can understand. We want them to know what they’re getting for their money,” said DiCamillo.
The architectural firm, Kaeyer, Garment & Davidson (KG&D), was hired by the board of trustees, after firms had been interviewed and vetted by the BAC.
By the time the architects were brought on board on March 6, 2013, the committee members had thrashed out various contentious topics and were able to provide guidance to the firm based on the principles they had developed. Conceptual plans have been honed for several months now.
On June 12, the committee met with the architects who had taken a conceptual plan that the committee members had favored, except for the price tag, and revised it to get closer to the $10 million range. After a lengthy discussion, members agreed that Option 6 over all would work if certain features from Option 5 were incorporated.
That merger will result in Option 7, which has not been officially adopted by the committee. It appears that an agreed upon plan is imminent and that it will be ready to present to the board of trustees at their July 23 meeting.
Principal of the firm, Russell Davidson, says it was “very tight” to bring all the ideas and wishes for the renovation in at the budget goal.
But some improvements could logically be delayed and added at some future date. For example, features such as enhanced landscaping could be phased in later from future operating budgets if the fiscal climate supported it.
There is a five percent contingency fee built in to the design aspect and 5 percent contingency for the construction fees.
The following information is based on the discussions of the favored plan at the June 12 meeting. Option 7 will be prepared by the architectural firm, fine-tuned and voted on by the committee in the coming weeks. These are the highlights of the plan but may be subject to change in a final rendering.
Upon entering the building on the main floor, one’s eye would travel on the diagonal to the reference desk that would have a backdrop of the pond views. The community room would be located to the far left on the Bayview Avenue side and the circulation desk would be on the near left. Adjacent to the community room would be a multi-purpose room. The adult fiction collection and reading nooks would be sited on the right of the building overlooking the pond.
The mezzanine would be reduced in size, would not contain bookshelves as it does now and would “float” visually. Staff offices would be located there as well as another reading space for the public, again enjoying pond views.
The audio-visual department would be underneath the mezzanine along with two fully accessible restrooms.
Reference, computer stations and the non-fiction collection would be located on the main floor at the rear of the building along with a young adult collection. Study stalls would be dotted throughout the area allowing for small group use as well as individual use.
The ground floor would contain the children’s collection which would be considerably larger with 3,675 square feet of space. There would be a direct entrance from the lower parking lot for ease of access and there would be a child-scaled restroom in the area.
Levels would be sited as it is now.
An open gallery section at the foot of the staircase would be used for a variety of purposes including exhibitions. Restrooms and vending machines would be available nearby.
A large multi-purpose room that could be divided into two functional rooms would be located on the ground level toward the rear. And all the behind-the-scenes requirements for processing materials, technical services and the like would be on the lower level as well. Mechanicals for the building would be housed there also.
There are numerous fine points that have not been decided upon. “Once we have committed to a conceptual design, there will be many opportunities for the public to have input,” stated DiCamillo.