Full natural light, wide open spaces, a dynamic children’s room, an outdoor amphitheater and meeting rooms are part of a new design proposed for Mount Pleasant Public Library’s main library and Valhalla branch library.
The plan was presented to the community, local officials and library committee members on October 18 at Mount Pleasant City Hall.
The aim is to bring both institutions into the 21st centurySt Century by embracing a contemporary vision of libraries as community centers for civic activities for all ages.
The estimated cost of renovating both libraries is just over $10 million. However, the library has already received approximately $5.5 million in grants and endowments. The redesign of the branch library would cost just under $1 million.
The footprints for both libraries would remain the same. Built in 1965, the Pleasantville Main Library is approximately 22,000 square feet. The branch library is a 2,800 square foot space in the Mount Pleasant Community Center. It opened in 1992.
Over the past 18 years, a number of capital improvement projects for the main library have included the replacement of outdated HVAC equipment, carpeting, roofing, lighting and bathrooms. New LED lighting and a new ceiling grid were installed in 2018. A week after the project was tendered, the Library Authority received an environmental report confirming that asbestos was widespread behind the walls.
“It was a total shock,” Library Director John Fearon said last week. “The lighting and ceiling project went from a budget of about $550,600,000 to $2.5 million because of asbestos, which put it out of reach of the library.”
Construction on the library was halted and a new plan became imperative, Fearon said. Following the discovery of asbestos, the Library Authority drew up an Inter-Municipal Agreement (IMA) with town and village authorities to address this challenge.
Under the IMA, day-to-day maintenance was made the responsibility of each library to fund projects from their own budgets. Capital projects are presented to both municipalities as Library Council recommendations.
Last week, architect Henry Myerberg of HMA2 Architects, a Manhattan-based firm, presented visual representations of the proposed work. Myerberg, a Mount Pleasant resident, designed and remodeled 30 libraries.
“This project is very special because it’s in my hometown and in a library that I used,” he said.
Myerberg explained that the two buildings are great real estate assets that are irreplaceable.
“What we’re going to get out of them is nothing compared to what it would cost to replace them,” Myerberg said.
Proposed changes within the main library include rearranging the stacks to provide more space and make other library areas more visible. The main entrance would be moved to the parking lot. The children’s area should be acoustically and safely separated from the common areas and a private bathroom.
A redesigned mezzanine would become an informal seating area and meeting rooms would be built around the inner periphery of the building.
Proposals for redesigning the branch library include a new room for daily use, two small enclosed meeting rooms for staff and the public, and a new entrance with better visibility of the library rooms.
Both locations would get an outdoor terrace, pergola and self-service café.
The outside area could be used for civic events, parties and maybe weddings.
Fearon explained that the presence of asbestos in the main library prevented the installation of data cables in the walls and the painting or mounting of shelving, as the distance was prohibitive.
“The library will die if we don’t solve the asbestos problem,” Fearon said. “The building becomes an eyesore and gradually becomes inoperable.”
However, cost is an issue. Mount Pleasant City Councilwoman Laurie Rogers Smalley said she admires the plan but has some unease.
“I hate being Debbie Downer here, but when you look at a project like this and on this scale, we have to look at usage by everyone in the city and we also have to look very closely at the finances,” Smalley said. “What do you need? What isn’t necessary?”
Others saw the spending, which would be about $5 million more than the grants and endowments available, as reasonable.
“If we were anywhere else, at current real estate costs, we’re probably looking at a $25 million project,” said Village Trustee David Vinjamuri, who designs libraries in the United States.
“Could you withdraw $5 million from this project? The answer is yes,” Vinjamuri continued. “What will feel to the residents of Mount Pleasant and the villagers of Pleasantville like an entirely new library inside for a $5 million city-to-village investment is a steal.”
Councilwoman Danielle Zaino asked about the performance of the amphitheater and pergola.
“Are these really needs or can they be put on hold and dealt with at a later date? We have a city of 42,000 people and there is still a lot to do.”
Zaino also noted that there didn’t appear to be much walking traffic at the branch library, which may allow officials to scale back the scope of this project.
Last year, according to the library’s 2021 annual report, 32,255 visitors visited the village main library and 8,362 the branch library. Fearon said the number of library cards in the system showed 66 percent were from the city and 34 percent were from the village.
“I learned how to read English at this library,” said Village Trustee Paul Alvarez. “After school I had a tutor in the library who taught me how to read. We can both share the burden and both the village and the city can come together and interest everyone.”
Mount Pleasant Supervisor Carl Fulgenzi said he agrees the project is an important investment for the community.
“But over the years I’ve heard that we’ve improved the recreation department and people are like, ‘I never use it, why are you spending my tax dollars?’ Those are the questions we need to answer,” Fulgenzi said.
Effective communication with residents is vital, he said.
“The library is for everyone, it’s not just the village library, it’s not just the city library,” said Fulgenzi.
Questions were raised during the presentation, including when construction would begin, which library should be completed first, and how to find a temporary facility for the main library during the construction period. The next step would be to share the details of the plan with the community.
Pleasantville Mayor Peter Scherer said the city and village needed to determine areas of the agreement.
“We’re clearly at the point where we need to put our heads together and decide what we can and want to do and what’s too far-fetched, so we’re not selling a solution to the public unless we have reasonable confidence that we can.” it can deliver,” said Scherer.