By MELISSA BEVERIDGE
Janet Torsney, director of the Bradley Beach Public Library, made a presentation to the Borough Council this week describing possible renovations that will make the public library accessible to all residents.
Torsney explained how the library is currently difficult to access for disabled residents. Her presentation explained the difficulties and the architect’s proposal.
The current library has over 6,600 members (Bradley Beach has 4,300 citizens) and has a 150 percent library service rate. Yearly visits to the library have doubled since 2011 with 45,167 visits in 2012. The library is also the fastest growing in Monmouth County with circulation up 34 percent compared to the medium library at 9 percent,
Torsney argued that the library is a good economic value. She referenced a study that found the return on each dollar of library funding was between $2 and $7. She also referenced a Pennsylvania study that found homes that are within a few blocks of a public library see an increase of value in their homes by $10,000.
The current library has been in the same location since 1927 and in those 86 years there have not been major changes to the building. It was recently designated a New Jersey and National historical site which is protective, but not restrictive in reconstruction.
However, the structure is also the only building in town that does not meet American with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations. The building has no elevator, steep stairs down to the children’s area, and no ramp to the outside door.
The Board of Trustees for the library contacted an architect firm, Mills and Schnoering who also did the reconstruction of the Statue of Liberty, who presented various plans for reconstruction to deal with the three major problems: building access, getting around the building, no fire exit on the first floor.
Mills and Schnoering developed plans for wheelchair access to the main building and to the basement ranging from $100,000 to $350,000. Additional options to improve getting around the library included an elevator and stair within the existing building and outside the existing building ranging between $200,000 and $750,000.
After reviewing the options with input from the public meeting, the library’s Board of Trustees chose the modest addition, which includes a 30-foot ramp from Hammond Avenue, elevator, staircase, toilet, and 190 square feet of flexible space on each floor. The construction would be complimentary to the building and would cost $851,000.
Torsney pointed out that the library has been a reliable partner to the town, offering $450,000 in tax relief to the borough. The library is willing to make debt payments on this renovation through 2017 when the borough will be under its debt cap in order to speed up construction.
Mayor Gary Engelstad emphasized his support for the library’s renovations.
“The library is the heart and soul of the community,” he said. “It’s a necessity to make the library accessible. It’s a miracle we haven’t been sued (because of ADA requirements established in 1990).”
Councilman Harold Cotler also expressed his support, stating however, that the 190 square feet of flexible space will only hold around 30 extra people due to fire codes. He added that plans should add additional space for future use.
Council members Norman Goldfarb and Salvatore Galassetti also added their approval.
Engelstad noted that there will be a financial presentation on September 24 and the project will be reintroduced at the meeting of October 15 at 6:45pm (changing from October 8).