At long last Town awards contract for construction of new library
by : Al Sullivan Reporter senior staff writer
Dec 01, 2000 | 298 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When Library Director Katherine Steffens first got hired as a worker at the Secaucus Public Library in 1984, then-director Margaret Grazioli apologized for not having enough space. "She said, 'The library doesn't have room for another employee to have a desk,'" Steffens said last week. "She told me to walk around a lot."

This past Tuesday, the Town Council awarded a $2.9 million contract for construction of a new library to the Emara Contracting Company of Parsippany, citing it as the lowest responsible bidder and putting a possible end to the library's space problems in the foreseeable future.

Frank Leanza, the town attorney, said an investigation of the company's past practices showed a good record on previous projects as well as good reputation with bonding companies. Leanza also said the company had the knowledge and expertise needed for the construction of the new library.

In September, the town received 19 bids to the build a new library, ranging from a low of $2.9 million to a high of $4.4 million.

The town bonded for the purchase of the land at 1377 Paterson Plank Road two years ago. After buying the land, the town had about $1.5 million left. Combining this with the $1 million the library trustees had set aside, town officials hoped the library could be constructed for about $2.5 million. To help offset the addition costs, the Town Council voted in October to increase its Capital Improvement Budget by $500,000, with the idea of using the additional money to meet this bid.

"I think this is a victory for our community," Mayor Dennis Elwell said. "The trustees for the library have been struggling for a least 10 years to get this done."

Needed for decades

Lack of space in the library has been a problem since the early 1970s, something library trustees had struggled to deal with ever since as the changing town and increased uses of the library put more and more pressure for the facility to expand.

For years, trustees have talked of moving or expanding. But the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the late 1980s pushed the library to seek concrete plans that would provide more room. In December of 1992, the trustees reviewed plans that would have expanded the library. With ramps and other features, it would then meet ADA requirements and also provide additional space.

But numerous problems kept the $4 million expansion project from moving ahead. Even with space inside the library increased, the plans could not meet the parking requirements imposed by the Hackensack Meadowlands Development Commission. In 1999, a new plan emerged that called for construction of a new library on a location previously proposed for a firehouse.

Gave credit

Steffens, in acknowledging her relief at the council's move to award the contract, called it a tough process that took "courage, conviction and passion."

While the trustees and others maintained their passion, she said, others did not have the same level of passion for the project. This changed under Mayor Dennis Elwell, she said, and she credited his drive with helping to make the new library a reality.

"Dennis Elwell told me not to be shortchanged by the renovating the old library," Steffens said. "He said we needed a new library, and I saw and heard the passion in him. Everyone who voted for the contract tonight had that passion and conviction."

Steffens said people in the past have been amazed by what her small library could offer with the limited space they had.

"Imagine what we're planning to do when we have all this space you have voted to provide us," she told the members of the council.

In a later interview, Elwell said he hoped to have the groundbreaking for the new library in December, but could not yet predict an exact date.

"First the contractor has to take down the old building," he said. "That can happen at any time."

Elwell said the council is also looking to hire a project manager to oversee the construction, but said this could wait until the land is cleared.

"We don't need a project manager to oversee the company's taking the building down," Elwell said. "But we will have a person in place once digging for the footings starts."

Meanwhile, Councilman Fred Constantino and the wives on several councilmen have begun a fund-raising effort that will help to furnish the library. Elwell said he will be meeting with business leaders in town about helping to purchase furnishings.

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