By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO After two decades of searching, the Ethelbert B. Crawford Public Library’s board feels it’s found the perfect spot for a new home.
Library officials confirmed this week that months of rumors are true: the former Cohen’s Bakery building near the corner of Broadway and Prince Street is their unanimous pick to relocate the space-strained Monticello library.
And come August 9, they’ll ask voters to agree that the 10,800-square-foot, two-story brick-and-concrete structure is a worthy successor to the library’s current 4,000-square-foot home just up the street.
“The property came up [for sale],” Library Director Alan Barrish explained. “It’s the best we’ve seen by far, and we’ve seen a lot.”
“We’ve looked at everything,” agreed Board President Bob Norris, citing an expanding population and collection as the twin driving needs behind the move.
Indeed, the library’s special taxing district was created in 1991 with such growth in mind, said Barrish, but over the past 20 years, the right opportunity just hasn’t presented itself.
They looked into expanding the current building, a handsome brick structure which dates back to 1936.
“But it didn’t work,” said Barrish, due to the 1.9-acre property’s unforgivingly steep slopes, stretching back to Lincoln Place and Ann St.
Five lots along Broadway, however, had the needed flat topography and a well-maintained building that’s still centrally located in the county seat.
Inside and out, library officials see plenty of opportunities.
“We envision a park and gazebo where you can go out and read books,” said Norris, referring to the vacant Broadway lot next to Cohen’s.
And the parking lot will be able to accommodate 56 spaces instead of the current library’s 20, with access off Prince Street, meaning drivers won’t have to deal with the turning limitations created at Crawford now by the new Broadway median.
Inside, two floors will offer room for more books and media, offices, community space and bathrooms all handicapped-accessible, unlike Crawford’s existing structure.
Barrish envisions more programming for all ages, especially children and senior citizens, plus an expanded computer area, as the library has become a destination for those seeking free computer and wi-fi Internet access.
“If we hadn’t embraced the Internet, we’d not have been as useful and current as we are,” he explained. “We’re full every day with people coming to use the Internet.”
And this new location will build upon that already-immense community value, he added.
Now it’s up to the community to agree. If it doesn’t, the existing library will remain in use. But if the public does say yes, the library will purchase the five parcels from Kerendian and Sons Inc. for $600,000 and undertake a $5.3 million, 30-year bond, which library officials are estimating will cost taxpayers no more than an additional $16 per year on a home assessed at $100,000.
Thanks to the efforts of Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther and NYS Senator John Bonacic, the library will be able to take advantage of a new state law allowing it to borrow money via the NYS Dormitory Authority at interest rates below average.
“I carried the legislation regarding bonding, which the governor signed,” Gunther acknowledged.
She’s a resident of the library district and supports the relocation.
“In the last few years,” Gunther said, “libraries have been utilized more than ever.”
“Libraries are valuable resources in our communities,” agreed Bonacic. “If voters decide they want a larger building, I wanted to ensure it was done as inexpensively as possible. Most importantly though, the voters should have the final say, and I encourage everyone to vote.”
If the library does move to the Cohen building (estimated to be completed by 2014), the current 76-year-old home of the library will be put up for sale, said library spokesman Bill Madden.
Assessed last year at $275,000 and full-market-valued at $352,100, the sale of the library would likely put it back on the tax rolls (though, of course, the Cohen building would come off the tax rolls).
So a good many eyes are looking with interest to the August 9 vote, scheduled for 3-8 p.m. at the library (for Thompson and Monticello voters), the Duggan Community Center in White Lake (for Bethel voters) and the Forestburgh Town Hall.
“I believe the library is an asset to the community,” said Forestburgh Town Supervisor Bill Sipos, citing in particular the need for access for all to books and the Internet. “It’s a valuable tool to the people of the area. ... At the same token, the cost is a factor.”
“We can’t afford nothing here,” lamented Monticello Mayor Gordon Jenkins, concerned about the tax impact.
But, he agreed, “it would be a great anchor in the village.”
And that’s what library officials hope the public remembers when it heads to the polls.
“The new Crawford Public Library will be an extraordinary resource for the community and be a focal point of the village’s ongoing downtown revitalization,” said Norris. “The new library will be bigger and better by every measure. We’ll be able to expand our programming and serve many more people. This will be a historic step for the village.”
And yet, Crawford will continue to do exactly what it’s done for the past century, affirmed Barrish.
“A function of the library is a place to go,” he said. “It is a sacred space in there a good, quiet space.”
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For more info, the library has created a website dedicated to this plan: www.newcrawfordlibrary.com.