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Library Board Votes for Renovation/Expansion

Decision Was 18 Years in the Making

The Great Neck Library Board of Trustees held one of its most significant votes in recent history at a special public meeting at the Main Branch on Wednesday, January 13. After much deliberation and consideration of the public’s input for a proposed library renovation/expansion, the board decided in favor of Plan D. Plan D is a variant on Plan C, which according to DattnerArchitects, the architect engaged by the board, represents a “workable compromise between the original programmatic requirements and the necessary adjustments to the budget.”

Also on the agenda for the evening was an update and discussion on the proposed relocation of the Station Branch to the upper level of the same shopping center in which it is currently housed in the Village of Great Neck Plaza.

Station Branch Issues

On the subject of the Station Branch lease, the Branch Committee reported that library director Jane Marino; business manager, Neil Zitosky; and library attorney Kevin Seaman have been negotiating with the landlord, Kabro Associates for a lease that will be acceptable to the library. The committee hopes to have all the pertinent information available in order to conduct a vote on the Station Branch lease by January 19. Estimated renovation and build-out costs are to be provided by the library’s construction manager, Park East Construction Corporation, while a proposal for design costs is to be submitted by DattnerArchitects before January 19. The committee thanked the Village of Great Neck Plaza for being so helpful in providing site plans from their planning department.

Estimated additional operating costs for the upper level space, which was previously configured for a restaurant, were presented. Assuming that the library will take over the top floor premises in September, an additional part time librarian including benefits and taxes would cost $14,245 for the remainder of 2010 (four months) and $42,735 in 2011. Electric utilities would increase from a current expenditure of $12,300 to an estimated $8,200 for the last four months of 2010 and a $24,600 increase for 2011. Gas and cleaning services would cost the library an additional $9,000 in 2011.

While attorney Kevin Seaman emphasized that the first eight months of the proposed lease were negotiated to be rent free to allow the library time to hire a contractor and to allow for plan completion, rent would increase by $66,500 in 2011, for a total budget increase of $142,835. The landlord has agreed to cap piping and to remove the kitchen and bar area from the premises.

Several trustees voiced their concern regarding the landlord’s reneging on providing a “vanilla box” and the additional cost to the library of being responsible for taking down walls to reconfigure the space. Several board members also brought up concerns about the condition of the six HVAC units in the space as a possibly large maintenance expense in the future. Gaps in the railings on the steps leading up to the new space were also voiced as a concern of a few board members. In response to the issues raised, Chairman of the Building Committee Andrew Greene asked Mr. Seaman to ask the landlord for an extension of time beyond January 19. Mr. Greene stated the importance of knowing what the build-out would cost, what the age of the essential infrastructure such as the HVAC units is, and whether the landlord would remedy the spacing between the railings to provide the safety needed for young library guests. Mr. Greene also asked Mr. Seaman to inquire about whether the landlord would pro-rate the cost of any major capital improvement, particularly because the landlord has denied the library’s option to renew after the 10-year lease is up. Mr. Greene stated that “we cannot trade off our fiduciary responsibility” to meet a January 19 decision date. Mayor of Great Neck Plaza Jean Celender and several Village of Great Neck Plaza Trustees voiced their commitment to cooperating with the library to finalize this new space which Mr. Seaman coined as being “far superior both esthetically and operationally to the first floor space.”

Main Renovation/Expansion Vote

Switching gears, Mr. Greene began the second phase of the meeting by stating the recommendation of the Building Committee to the Board of Trustees that they adopt and proceed with Plan D, which was presented at the December building committee, for the library renovation/expansion. According to Daniel Heuberger, a principal at DattnerArchitects, “the library, the construction manager and the architects worked [diligently] to produce a scheme that would satisfy the essential programmatic requirements of the project while seeking reductions in project cost and building size.” Using Plan C as a starting point (the gross footage of which was 56,970 square feet with an estimated total cost of $23.4 million), Plan D reduces the total building size to 55,770 square feet for a reduction of 1,200 square feet from the building. Reductions were made to staffing seats and square footages of the circulation desk, programming office, collection storage/technical services area, the young adult area and business and other offices. The circulation area was also further reduced in size as the library will reduce its collection by 10,000 volumes. A proposed study room will now be made into a computer training room with 12-14 stations. Value engineering and project cost reductions include modification to the skylight design, and revaluation of the allowance for furnishings, furniture, and equipment based on market conditions and comparable projects. A re-evaluation of the project assumptions concerning escalation and general contracting markups in light of the continued depression of the construction market was also adopted.

The project cost, including hard and soft costs, for Plan D is $22.5 million dollars. This budget does not include the repair or replacement of the parking lot retaining wall, which is currently under examination by the architect and structural engineer. Additional probes of the wall will be completed in the next couple of weeks. The estimated cost of replacing or repairing the wall is between $300,000 and $425,000.

Plan D requires limited impact to the site plan from Plan C. A decision on parking is yet to be made by the board. DattnerArchitects has provided three parking options: Option A adds two more parking spots to the existing 98 spaces (one additional handicapped spot in the upper lot and one in the lower lot), without modifying the lot. The current lot has two handicapped spots in the upper lot. Option B adds 12 spots and calls for the removal of nine trees while bringing the lot up to a higher code with four handicapped spots in the upper and one in the lower lot. Option C adds 18 spots and brings every spot to code while taking down 23 trees and all the shrubs currently in the lot. Option C offers four handicapped spots in the upper lot and one in the lower lot. This option requires removal of the entire retaining wall. The architect’s recommendation, given the desire to be cost sensitive, is 161 spaces based on the size of the building. The library’s zoning attorney, Paul Bloom, asked whether on-street parking could offset the need for lot modification so that the library could try to maintain the natural environment.

Mr. Greene added that Plan D “preserves functionality and usage of the building, but is more efficient, with a decrease in operational cost, in the mass of the building, and in the cost of financing. The board has been responsive to the overwhelming sentiment of the public to be very frugal and spend only the minimum necessary. The trustees were extremely diligent in going over every square foot for a 12.2 percent decrease in footage from Plan C. Plan D does not go up in height so that the Village of Saddle Rock side of the building will be preserved…We think this plan will satisfy the needs of the community and do it in a very cost effective way.”

In response to a question raised by David Werber, trustee of the Village of Great Neck Plaza and chairman of the Saddle Rock Board of Zoning and Appeals, regarding the future of paper books now that electronic books such as the Kindle, have been introduced into the market, Ms. Marino stated that she believed that the joy of reading a paper book would not be obsolete in the near future. Furthermore, the proposed renovation/expansion would create a building that could structurally adapt to different needs by the community in the years to come.

Plan D, like Plan C, calls for the Main branch to be closed for a period of 18-24 months. A temporary Main branch relocation would cost approximately $250,000 while general moving and storage (two moves required) would cost $50,000 and the collection’s relocation and storage (also two moves required) would cost $125,000.

Cost to Residents

According to Board President Martin Sokol, the average annual cost of a $22.5 million project for a $1 million assessed home, would be approximately $84.59, if amortized over 20 years at 5 percent. If amortized over 25 years, the average annual cost would be approximately $78.58. Mr. Sokol stated that the difference in cost to the same homeowner between leaving the library structurally unchanged (Plan A) and the proposed Plan D is approximately $26.31 per year.

Before the board took a vote on the motion set forth by Mr. Greene to approve Plan D, Village of Saddle Rock Mayor Leonard Samansky expressed his concern with what he referred to as the board’s “partial plan.” “I am concerned with the esthetics as it fits within the village. I am concerned with the parking for which you do not have a plan…I am going to oppose any variances,” he said. When Mr. Greene asked Mayor Samansky for a list of his grievances, Mayor Samansky replied, “I do not discuss possible litigation in front of the public.”

In an interview with the Record, Mr. Sokol responded that “we [the Board] are going to act in the spirit of cooperation to work with Mayor Samansky and the Town of North Hempstead so that we are all on the same page. We want this library expansion and renovation to happen and we believe that Mayor Samansky also wants this to happen. We will do our best to continue to work together to achieve our common goal.”

The vote was passed 6-1 in favor of approving Plan D and directing DattnerArchitects and other professionals under contract with the library to do what is necessary to obtain variances and a site plan for approval and public referendum. The single opposing vote came from Marietta DiCamillo, treasurer of the board.

In concluding the meeting, Mr. Sokol quoted Sir Winston Churchill at the victory of Alamein in North Africa after Montgomery defeated Rommel: “This is not the end. This is not even the beginning of the end. But it is the end of the beginning.” Discussions on a library renovation/expansion began nearly 18 years ago. When Mr. Sokol took office two years ago, the library had no permanent director and no architect. Within less than a year, a permanent director and an architect had been hired. Now, under his leadership, plans have been approved to move forward with a library renovation/expansion. “Compromise results in progress,” Mr. Sokol told the Record.

In summarizing the historic importance of the vote that has just taken place, Mr. Sokol remarked, “We are compelled by necessity to improve the library. It is old and needs extensive repair. The choice then facing us was either to leave the library structurally the way it is now and renovating the inside or to take advantage of this once-in-a lifetime, once-in-a-generation opportunity to enlarge the library and renovate it. [And] what do residents get in return for the small increase in taxes?...A brand new, state- of-the-art, modern, beautiful, sunny, more spacious, more efficient, up to modern standards library that everyone will be happy and proud of for an entire generation.”