Capital projects will help Metuchen Public Library keep pace with evolving borough

Metuchen Public LibraryKATHY CHANG/STAFF
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Metuchen Public LibraryKATHY CHANG/STAFF

METUCHEN – The goal of the Metuchen Public Library is “to keep pace with the vibrant, evolving and amazing” community the brainy borough has become.

The 2018 statistics are telling – 120,049 visitors, 117,359 items circulated, 6,876 library card holders, 1,074 library and community programs, and 14,754 total program attendance – the library is a happening place to be. That is why library officials said it is time to tackle some infrastructure issues with the support of Mayor Jonathan Busch, his administration, the Borough Council, and the Friends of the Public Library.

Elizabeth Waldron, president of the Metuchen Public Library Board of Trustees, presented the proposed library’s capital improvement projects at a council meeting on June 10 along with Samina Ali, vice president, and John Koskosi, treasurer.

Metuchen Library Director Hsi Hsi Chung and Sharon Taylor, president of the Friends of the Metuchen Library, provided an overview of the library and its many uses and services.

Tyreen Reuter, a member of the Metuchen Historic Preservation Committee, provided information about the library’s opportunity for a New Jersey Historic Trust grant for the proposed infrastructure improvements.

The library is eligible to apply for a New Jersey Historic Trust grant because it is a public building and is located within the Middlesex Avenue-Woodwild Park Historic District, which became part of the National Register of Historic Places in 2017, Reuter said.

“The library is a key contributing site in the district,” she explained. “The original historic site of the library has remained largely unchanged since its construction in the 1930s and that is actually a good thing for historic trust grants.”

The historic building portion of the Metuchen Public Library on Middlesex Avenue was constructed in 1937. Expansions to the library were done in the late 1960s and in 1972.

Waldron also noted the library has an opportunity of a lifetime with the passing of the $125 million New Jersey State Library Bond Act, which gives the library the opportunity to get matching dollars to address their capital needs.

She said based on the non-profit American Library Association, library officials have determined the library’s services to the community of Metuchen for 2018 is valued at more than $3 million.

“It speaks to our resources, programming, books, and e-sources we provide,” she said. “We are always striving and our intent is to move the dial even further on return on investment.”

The library capital improvement projects include basement rehabilitation and renovation, main floor space study expansion and redesign and a parking lot expansion.

The basement rehabilitation and renovation is 3,000 square feet of space with a projected cost of $656,500, which will improve space for meeting, office, work and well-organized storage area making it ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant. The main floor space study expansion and redesign is 9,100 square feet, including two small corner additions with a projected cost of $1.14 million. The parking lot expansion is 2,600 square feet adding up to 14 spaces including two handicapped spots at a projected cost of $400,000.

Waldron said it has been more than 50 years since any significant work has been done with exception of the upstairs room with the help of the Friends of the Library.

Ali said the main level is the crux of the renovation of the library with the biggest footprint of people walking in and out. The two additions – one area facing Library Place and one area facing Route 27 – will provide a larger makerspace area and an area for quiet space.

Ali said the capital improvement projects allow for better “safety, security and efficiency.”

The addition for the quiet space will move the front desk in the line of sight of the front and back entrance as well as add another stall for the men’s bathroom.

Koskoski said the Board of Trustees spend a lot of their time and effort on prioritizing the budget to keep the library competitive with other small libraries and small communities. Only eight percent, or $65,000, of the 2019 budget, which totals $766,000, went towards books, materials and resources.

He said a big part of the function of the library is the support from the Friends of the Metuchen Library, which began in 1986 with a small group of residents and has grown to approximately 250 families.

“We have a dedicated group of board members who are the heart and soul of the Friends,” Sharon Taylor said. “Without the members and fundraisers we hold throughout the year, the library would not be able to offer the various activities that it does from cultural celebrations, classic movies and yoga as well as numerous children’s programs.”

Chung reported that people young and old use the variety of services the library offers, which has become more than just books from space to conduct business, reading the newspapers, using the computers, to taking ESL (English as a Second Language) class offerings.

Busch asked what a “brainy borough” would be without a library at its center.

“It’s important we have a vibrant library and we certainly appreciate all the board members,” he said.

Council President Linda Koskoski said she does not think people realize how much the library offers with no fees attached, which can be a big benefit to many families.

“It’s all because we have this great library with an amazing set of people who can take a small amount of money and create all the lovely programs,” she explained.