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Statement from Great Neck Library Director Jane B. Marino

The proposed renovation and expansion project for the Great Neck Library will be put to the voters for approval on Oct. 25, 2011 from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Voter information is on our website or available by calling the Library.  If you are unsure where, when or how to vote, please call me.  Since it is the objective of the Library to disseminate accurate information, I would like to clear up some inaccurate information that is floating around the community regarding our referendum.

When you vote, and I sincerely hope you do, you will be voting on two amounts of money. The first amount is $20.8 million – the maximum amount of the bond issue. If construction prices continue to drop as they have over the past few years, we may not need to incur the full amount of this debt. Approximately two-thirds of these funds will be used to renovate the existing 47,125 square feet of space, and the balance to construct an addition of 8,645 square feet.

You are also voting on the maximum debt service (i.e. total annual principal and interest payments) in the amount of $1,760,000. The actual debt service will depend on the interest rate at which the bonds sell, but is expected to be considerably less. Although our financial advisor, out of an abundance of caution, advised the Library to use a high interest rate of 5 and ¾ percent, we in no way expect the rates to be that high.  In fact, tax-exempt interest rates have recently dropped to under 4 percent, and are not expected to rise any time soon. So although there is an annual debt service amount included in the referendum, there is absolutely no intention to incur that level of debt. The actual number is expected to be closer to $1.5 million.

If the majority of our voters approve the referendum, the Library will seek out a temporary fourth branch. This location will not be as big as our Main Library is because there are no empty buildings with 47,000 square feet that can be easily transformed into a library. So we will try to find something near Main, with as much square footage as possible.

We are not going to look for that space until the referendum is over.  Why? If the referendum fails, it would be imprudent to spend time looking for a rental space we would not need. So while some of our residents might criticize this decision as a lack of planning, rather it is – and has always been – part of the Library’s step-by-step plan. In fact we are following every step of the plan the Board very carefully and clearly laid out over two years ago:

Step 1: Hire an architect. Dattner Architects were hired in 2009.  

Step 2: Hire a construction management firm. Park East Construction was hired in 2009. The board made a conscious decision not to hire a separate firm to act as an “owner’s rep” since they are confident in Park East’s ability to represent the library and its best interests with all construction and other subcontractors. Park East has earned their outstanding reputation in the many public library and school construction projects they have overseen to their successful completion. One of Park East’s jobs will be to supervise and scrutinize the budget on a continuous basis so that there are no overruns and to handle whatever surprises and problems crop up so they can be brought to our attention immediately and a solution can be obtained. The Board has every confidence they will both represent and protect our interests.  It is in their interest to do so.

Step 3:  Adopt a concept design to be used as a basis for necessary approvals and preparation of a schematic design. After much discussion at public meetings, the concept design was adopted in January 2010 and immediately posted to our website. To say that the library has no plans is inaccurate.  In my recent community information groups and visits to various village board meetings, I have presented those plans, complete with square footages for each function.

Step 4: Obtain pre-referendum site plan approval by going to first the Board of Zoning Appeals to obtain our variances, which was completed in December 2010. Once the variances were obtained, the Library went to the Town Board for site plan approval. That was granted in July 2011. The Library Board wanted to assure the public that our site plan was approved before they asked you to vote on the project.

On the subject of the site plan, the Library’s design is not disturbing wetlands or other green areas since we are building only on what is currently hardscape. In fact, the site plan includes a redesign of the entire storm water runoff system to collect most of the oily and sediment laden surface water from the parking lot that has been running into and polluting the pond all these years.

The new library project has been designed, from its inception, with environmental stewardship in mind, by not encroaching on undisturbed portions of the site, and by incorporating modern, up to date storm water management techniques. The project is an opportunity to anyone who is concerned with the longterm ecological balance of the site to cheer out loud!

Step 5: Referendum. On Oct. 25, you will be asked to vote on a not-to-exceed price: $20.8 million. The Library must work within that budget, which has contingency amounts built into it, to complete the project. If there is an overrun on one aspect of the job, another aspect will be scaled back.    

Once the referendum is approved, the architect will work within the approved budget to develop a schematic design. The architect’s ideas will be brought to the board and the public for timely input. Neither the architect nor the library board is asking for blind trust. They are asking for your honest input. The project will enhance our collections and programs; give us space to provide the services you deserve and retain the beauty of the present building and grounds.

While the architect is hard at work, the library will be hard at work too. We will be finding space to rent for a temporary fourth location.  We will decide what books and other materials we will move to there, to other branches or to storage. We anticipate expanded hours at the other locations during this transition time. We will work with partners in the community to find space for children’s and adult programs as well as Levels. Be assured that our active, vibrant teen programs at Levels will continue in a temporary home in the community.   

What will happen if the referendum fails? We will go back to the drawing board, as the saying goes. The building needs work, which no one disputes. The board can decide to go back to you again with a vote on just a renovation or a smaller expansion than the 8,654 feet currently proposed.  Either way, you will be involved. We are not asking for a “blank check” from you nor are we asking that you “trust” us. We are asking for you to be involved and active in the project so that will give you the library you deserve and of which can be proud.