HOPEWELL BOROUGH. The Hopewell Public Library (HPL) held a public meeting Monday night to update the community about and seek feedback on plans for a property purchase and relocation of the existing library. HPL plans include the purchase of 64 East Broad Street by the Borough of Hopewell, with the intent to renovate that property and relocate the library. About 50 interested residents, patrons and taxpayers filled the Hopewell Elementary School Cafeteria to listen and comment on the HPL’s proposal for more than 90 minutes. MercerMe’s coverage on initial proposal can be found here.
The Proposed Acquisition Process
The library provided this “Looking Ahead” slide as part of their presentation which gives an overview of how the approval, purchase and renovation would proceed. The information on the process below is either from Monday’s presentation or MercerMe’s communication with Borough Administrator, Michele Hovan.
Step 1: We’re at Step 1 NOW. The Borough is currently negotiating for the purchase of 64 East Broad Street. The negotiations and the status of the negotiations are not available to the public pursuant to an exception to the Open Public Meetings Act for purchases of property until the negotiations are concluded. NJSA 10:4-12(b)(5).
Step 2: If the Borough plans to seek funding for the property, it will introduce a bond ordinance for a specified amount and schedule and hold a public hearing on that ordinance.
Step 3: Borough Council votes on the bond ordinance — for an ordinance the Council meets and votes twice, providing more opportunities for public input, comment and discussion.
Step 4: If the bond ordinance passes, the funds would be available for closing at the appropriate time. “If the introduced bond failed, the transaction would not proceed, much like a residential agreement with a mortgage pending that for whatever reason could not be realized. The contract of sale would address any terms for the termination of contract among various other conditions,” explained Hovan.
Step 5: (This will commence when concrete plans are established) The HPL will begin their capital campaign to raise private funds to renovate and expand the 64 East Broad Street property.
Step 6: Concurrently, the Borough will begin the process of selling the “red library” building.
Presentation by Hopewell Public Library
Woody Carsky-Wilson, HPL Trustee President, opened the meeting with a slide-show introducing the meeting purpose, the library’s mission and brief history, a list of continuing challenges in the current library location, and potential library and community uses if the library were to relocate.
Carsky-Wilson expressed that the goal ultimately is to “address challenges that have been there a long time and meet the needs of the growing community” with the major challenges being accessibility and lack of space as the most pressing issues. The current library is not ADA accessible and “a public building, especially in New Jersey, needs to comply with ADA standards. It is both ethically correct and legally wise,” said Carsky-Wilson.
The library’s architect, Ronica “Ronnie” Bregenzer, A.I.A., also presented on behalf of the HPL. Bregenzer spoke to the 64 East Broad Street property’s suitability for expansion and the prospective plans for new building, highlighting the central lot placement of the existing 64 East Broad building on the .856 acre lot. She suggested that this location might offer a variety of expansion options for the library. Currently, the 64 E Broad street property has 18 parking spaces (with 2 accessible spaces) however there is a green space behind the existing parking lot which Bregenzer said could allow the library to expand for additional parking if needed or even have a community garden.
The existing building is 2062 square feet and the design goal would increase the footprint to 5000 square feet, all on a single level with an open floor plan. The intent would be then to carve out spaces for a variety of uses including a dividable multi-purpose community room for films, lectures, and other community needs. Further, there would be a separate children’s area with possible access to outside for story time or a children’s garden.
As for maintenance costs, according to Carsky-Wilson, the library would not be expecting a larger budget if the move is successful. “We would not increase the paid staff size, because staff salaries are always our largest expenditure. Even a single additional paid staff member would have a significant impact on our budget. Therefore, the building would be specifically designed so our staff did not increase. Right now, snow removal is by a combination of the borough, the staff and their spouses, and volunteers… We would not require extended hours for book clubs, because we envision a community room accessible from its own outside door during off hours. Our staff could loan out the key to the book club, just like Borough hall does with the train station.”
The Public Speaks Up
The question/answer segment of the meeting was lengthy, divided and amazingly civil. Hopewellians managed to bring head-to-head a fierce love of libraries and a concern about increasing taxes.
In general, opposition to the proposed library relocation was about additional tax increases. Several long time Boro resident shared a concern about costs as additional tax increases are already looming. According to Carsky-Wilson, the rough estimate at this time, is that taxes would increase $30-35 per household for the new building purchase, assuming the average Boro property value of $350,000.
Another resident expressed concern about potential loss of property tax revenue for the Boro. Currently, 64 East Broad Street is assessed at $600,000 and pays approximately $15,000 in taxes per year. Once owned by the municipality, the property would be exempt from taxation. The sale of the “red library” building would enter that building’s property tax back into the pot, however the value of that property may or may not be comparable to the value of 64 East Broad.
At the meeting, when Borough representatives were pressed regarding the municipality incurring an additional debt, Michele Hovan stated that Hopewell Borough has a high credit rating which should not be substantially effected by another debt obligation.
As part of this financial discussion, residents inquired why fundraising efforts by HPL for the renovation had not yet begun. Jamie Sapoch, Hopewell Boro resident and professional fundraiser who is volunteering as fundraising advisor for the library, spoke to this point, “Logically that would make sense but I’ve done capital fundraising in this area for over 30 years, the most success fundraiser comes when you have all those i’s dotted and you know what the product is… You need to know exactly what the building will encompass which gets rolled into a very tight package… You can’t go out and try to raise money around an idea.”
Other residents expressed concern about the loss of the apparent charm of the little red library and its current central location. One Boro resident and father of 4 praised the inviting feel of the current library, worried that it would be “lost if it moves to a larger building,” and also surmised that the high foot traffic to HPL is due to the centralized location near Boro Bean and Nomad Pizza.
While some residents were concerned about increasing taxes, others shared that they considered the library relocation to align with the community-centric and vibrant downtown that Hopewell Boro is now known for. “People are moving to the town because people love the community and the library is a part of it,” said another Boro resident.
Whether or not physical libraries are becoming obsolete was also a point of discussion. Kate Elliott, a Boro resident with a library science background as well as being the HPL Trustee Vice President, shared, “Public libraries were founded historically and continue to exist as a way for the community to have a shared space to find information and become literate citizens. That goes beyond one single item, such as simply borrowing a book. It is a space for tutoring, new language learning, story hours… Free Public Libraries cut away class and monetary distinctions. They cut away age, race, gender distinctions. They are truly for every single citizen to have a place where they can get their information needs met.”
While it was not immediately clear what the next steps for public involvement and participation in the process would be, concerned citizens can reach out to local elected and library officials either directly or during the public comment portion of public meetings. The library also encourages individuals to drop off their comments at the library front desk which can be shared with the Trustees at the HPL board meeting.
And, of course, stay tuned to MercerMe.com for the latest on Borough’s proposed property purchase and further details regarding HPL’s proposal and fundraising efforts.
Article edited to reflect a clarification in steps 5 and 6 and correction of typo of Carsky-Wilson’s name.