A very grand opening Officials gather in new library building
by Al Sullivan Reporter senior staff writer
Jan 10, 2003 | 637 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Although it occurred more than a year later than officials initially intended, the new Secaucus Public Library opened its doors on Jan. 4 to a standing room-only crowd.

The new $3 million facility at 1379 Paterson Plank Road replaces the Plaza Center building, which was constructed in the early 1960s.

A sharp chill and high winds caused a last-minute change in the official grand opening ceremony, forcing the crowds to gather inside the new library rather than in tents set up in the parking lot. But the thick crowds straining to witness each aspect of the ceremony were not denied the numerous noontime events, such as the parade of books by the newly organized Children's Friends of the Library.

Because of several last-minute delays that pushed back the grand opening from the first anticipated date last October, some public officials - such as Gov. Jim McGreevey and the state librarian - could not attend. Yet numerous other dignitaries showed up, including Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise, state Assemblyman Anthony Impreveduto, Former Secaucus Mayor Paul Amico, Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner, and others.

Long time coming

Few events in recent history drew as many local dignitaries as this grand opening did, partly because it had been planned for decades. In opening the new library's doors, town officials put to an end a saga that had lasted more than 30 years - starting in the early 1970s when library trustees first began to formulate plans to upgrade the library.

"This has been a 30-year effort," said Mayor Dennis Elwell during a brief speech. "It is a cloudy, wet and cold day, similar to the one on which we broke ground two years ago. But it is a bright day just the same. It is the fulfillment of a dream."

Several residents recalled the town's first library, located in the attic portion of the previous Town Hall (which was demolished to make way for the current Town Hall near County Avenue and Paterson Plank Road). Rev. Will Henkel recalled the numerous steps people had to navigate to reach the original library, and pondered how earlier librarians managed the task on a daily basis.

The Plaza Library - which the new library replaces - was constructed in 1962 as part of an effort to find additional space as well as provide a firehouse for Engine Company No. 1. This unique union of firehouse and library served the town well for about a decade, but because Secaucus grew so much during the 1960s, library trustees realized they needed even more space. Under the leadership of then Library Director Margaret Grazioli (for whom the children's wing of the new library is named), the trustees began to investigate options to expand the Plaza library.

But money remained an issue during the 1970s and 1980s. The trustees and town could not come up with the necessary funds for reconstruction. Wise investments and increased revenues due to a significant increase in business and other development allowed the trustees to squirrel away enough so that by 1992, they could make more solid plans for expansion. But serious obstacles remained. The limited parking at the Plaza site would not meet the minimum legal requirements set by the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission. The older building also failed to meet basic requirements for handicap accessibility under federal law.

In 1998, the town, under then-Mayor Anthony Just, purchased land on Paterson Plank Road with the idea of moving the firehouse out of the library and allowing the library to expand there. In 1999, these plans were scraped, and under Mayor Dennis Elwell a year later, the town decided to build a new library on the Paterson Plank Road property instead. This required the town to use the $1 million of library money as well as to bond for additional cash to cover the rest of the cost. Donations from businesses, civic organizations and individuals not only furnished the new library with up-to-date equipment, new book shelves and additional computers, but provided the library with a business resource center.

Library Director Kathy Steffens, who shepherded the library's move and fulfilled the dream of her predecessor, said the library would play an even greater role in the community than before.

"I'm hoping that success will breed success," she said. "People will be able to use our facility to help themselves."

Carmen Ross, a former Board of Education president, said he was very impressed by the new library and saw it as playing a critical role in education.

County Administrator Tom DeGise, who showed up for the ceremony with his chief of staff, Jersey City Councilman Bill Gaughan, was visibly awed.

"This is the best library I have ever seen," he said.

Elwell said the library trustees had kept a valuable dream alive, but called it a long road to success which cost a lot of money and time to create.

"This institution will provide people with an opportunity to learn and will build a legacy for future generations," Elwell said. "This opens Secaucus up to the world and benefit our residents and the business community."

Robert F. Rosa, dean of Hudson County Community College, was on hand to celebrate a special room the college had donated. This resource room full of computers is part of the college's Continuing Education and Community Service program.

The amazing interior of arches, passageways and performance tower was the product of John Capazzi, whose record of accomplishment includes the Weehawken Library, the Community Center in Jersey City's Lincoln Park, and a school in Union City. In Secaucus, he also designed the town's Sept. 11 memorial and the new band shell in Buchmuller Park.

"We have asked Mr. Capazzi to look over the Plaza library building to determine what uses we can put it to," Elwell said during a later interview.

As part of the grand opening ceremony, Impreveduto presented Steffens with a state assembly resolution marking the occasion.

Trustee President Joan Millevoi gushed with an abundance of literary quotes, but in the end simply said: "Wishes do come true."
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