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Are We Ready for the Library of the Future?

BBB Michelle Lichtenberg shows Jill Spieler model1Ambitious plans for a major renovation to the Scarsdale Library were unveiled at an elegant party called Books, Bits and Blueprints on Thursday night December 3rd. The library never looked better – furniture in the main reading room was cleared to allow for a bar, a band and a spread of hors d'oeuvres, and a waterfall of sparkling lights was hung from the mezzanine, making the space look more like a nightclub than a study space.

On hand were hundreds of supporters, young and old including library employees, Village Trustees, school board members, bibliophiles, parents and community members. Renderings for the proposed new space were displayed, giving everyone a chance to preview what the library board and architects have envisioned for the future.

According to Library Director Elizabeth Bermel, the Reading Room1current library is heavily used and inadequately configured to meet the demands of the community. Though Scarsdale ranks 16th in population in the county, our library ranks fourth in usage. There are 300,000 annual visits and the library is "hopping" at all hours of the day, seven days a week. In order to offer a space where residents can work, meet, engage and utilize emerging technology the building needs to be transformed.

The plans, which can be viewed here, involve renovations to all the existing interior spaces and expansions around the perimeter to allow the library to be integrated with its park-like setting. Wiring and equipment for state-of-the art technology will be installed to allow users to collaborate, do research and access new media.

BBB Alison Litofsky Jodi Shapiro and Heather Harrison2The entry will become a glass lobby and café where users can chat, relax and enjoy a snack or light meal. The new configuration will include several flexible meeting rooms and small group study rooms. The children's wing and children's program room will be updated and there will be a separate teen room as well. The main reading rooms will be encased in glass and surrounded by a reading gallery and deck that looks out on library pond. The current reference room will be a quiet reading room with comfortable seating. Those who work from the library will have access to a technology suite with a printer, copier, laminator and other equipment to accommodate hands-on projects.

The basement will be renovated to serve as a staff work and lunch area and there will be a room with historical archives that can be accessed by the public. The administrative offices on the second floor will be also be redone.BBB Dara Gruenberg and David Lee1

In addition to making the library more user-friendly, the renovation will address some structural issues:

The roof will be replaced
An elevator will be added for multi-level access from the basement to the second floor.
New ADA compliant restrooms will be built that can accommodate wheelchairs and families
There will be an updated kitchen
New windows will be installed
A powerful generator will supply heat, electricity and internet access to the building if the area loses service.

The price tag for the project is estimated at approximately $18.5 million with an additional million needed to set up a temporary library at Supply Field for the 18 months it would take to build the new library. The Library Campaign Committee is seeking to raise $7.5 million in private monies to fund a portion of the project, with the balance coming from Scarsdale Village, who will post a bond to finance their share. There is a precedent for a public private partnership from the construction of the original library.

Justin Arest shows Arielle Kwiat the plans1At a meeting at the library with leaders of Scarsdale's neighborhood associations, (SNAP) on Monday December 7, Library Board President Terri Simon and Mayor Jon Mark revealed more about how the project might be financed.

Simon said the Campaign Committee is now soliciting major gifts to kick off the campaign. They hope to soon raise enough to pay the architects to do complete design and construction drawings that can be sent out for bids.

Mayor Mark said he was enthusiastic about the plans and that the other Village Trustees have expressed varying degrees of support for the project. He called the public portion of the financing, $12 million, "a big nut" and offered some back-of-the-envelope estimates of what the financing would mean to taxpayers. He estimated that if the Village posted a bond for $12 million at an interest rate of 2.75%, annual payments on the debt would be $985,000 a year. If this amount were divided by approximately 5,900 households, on average each household would pay $167 per year for 15 years.

Mark said that this expense needs to be balanced BBB Elinor Etkes Colby Mulvey and Anna Blake2against other demands on the Village budget including funding for major sewer line renovations and road repairs. He asked the community to let the trustees know their views by sending an email to clerk@scarsdale.com or attending a meeting of the Board of Trustees and speaking at the public comments session.

At the SNAP meeting, audience members posed questions, including:

What will happen if the Library Campaign Committee is not able to raise the full $7.5 million? Mark said that either the Village would fund the balance or ask the Library Board to scale back their plans.

Have the architects supplied an estimate on constructing a new library, rather than renovating the existing structure? Simon said that community sentiment supported saving the library and conserving the stone portions of the exterior so this option was not explored.

Is it necessary to open the temporary library during the construction? Could Scarsdalians simply use neighboring libraries? Bermel said that the state mandates that the Village maintain a library or pay neighboring libraries hefty fees to service Scarsdale residents. Simon added that the renovations to the Supply Field building would be permanent and would improve the facility for the future.

BBB Betty Pforzheimer Peter and Laura Strauss1Have the architects provided an estimate for the structural improvements without the renovation – i.e. a bid to repair the roof, build ADA compliant restrooms, repair the windows? Simon said that since the existing structure can't accommodate some of these changes all the pieces fit together for a complete renovation.

What do you think? Express your views in the comments section below.

All photos by Paula Whittlin

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