Bellevue Library branch, 185 Bellevue Ave.
PHOTO BY ADAM ANIK

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

Of the items that were on the ballot on Nov. 7, one in particular was of special interest to the Montclair Public Library staff.

Voters in Montclair and across the state gave the thumbs-up to the New Jersey Library Construction Bond Act. Under the terms of the bond act, the state will be allowed to borrow $125 million in funding to build new libraries and maintain existing ones.

For Montclair’s library, the news was very welcome indeed, since the library is about to embark on a series of capital projects at both the main library and the Bellevue Avenue branch. This includes updating the floor plan and offerings at the main library and making the Bellevue Avenue branch ADA-accessible.

“We are very enthusiastic about the outcome of the vote on the bond,” Library Director Peter Coyl said via email this week. “We appreciate the strong support it received from the community and from voters statewide.”

Coyl said that the library will present the exact details and plans during the library’s 125th birthday celebration in April. “But the idea is that the library will be reimagined for the modern and future library user,” he said. “Our needs (both in space and technology) have changed since the last renovation 20 years ago.”

The main library was built in 1956 and last underwent an overhaul in the 1990s.

The Bellevue Avenue branch opened in 1914, as one of the libraries built with funding from the Carnegie Corporation. It briefly closed in 2010 but reopened a few years later.

In a Town Square column in Montclair Local describing the bond in September, Coyl wrote, “Some might wonder if these really are necessary changes. I believe they are. Last year, the library had over 32,000 members, which is over 75 percent of Montclair residents, and circulated more than 440,000 items. We also offered over 1,500 programs to the public last year. We welcomed over 300,000 visitors through our doors. Not bad for a 125-year-old library system!”

Montclair’s two library foundations — the Montclair Public Library Foundation and the Friends of the Bellevue Avenue Library — were also overjoyed to hear of the bond’s passage.

“I’m thrilled that New Jersey voters reaffirmed the importance of libraries this past Election Day,” said Jen Bonnell, MPLF board chair. “Libraries are the lifeblood of communities, and making sure our libraries have the funding and facilities they need to welcome and provide a safe space for everyone is so crucial.”

FBAL president Cordelia Siporin said, “We had actually sent out an email blast on the Monday before voting day, encouraging our constituency to vote ‘Yes’ on the Library Bond Act public question, and we hope our encouragement helped add fuel to the fire that ultimately got it passed.”

Siporin said that making the Bellevue Avenue branch ADA-accessible while keeping its architecture intact was a unique challenge for the library staff.

“We at FBAL have always had the dilemma of wanting to preserve the historic building to perfection, without upsetting a single brick or bookcase, and yet also wanting the building to be ADA accessible.” She added that the library administration had reassured them that they would take the Friends of the Bellevue Library’s input into consideration on the planning.

Coyl said the library has retained the services of New York-based architect Andrew Berman to work on the renovations plans, and that the library will apply for funding for the projects once the office of the New Jersey State Librarian released instructions on the application process and criteria.

According to Berman’s website, his other library design credits include a redesign of the Princeton Public Library’s second floor, which was completed this year; a children’s reading room at the New York Public Library’s Washington Heights branch; and the expansion and revision of the NYPL’s Stapleton branch on Staten Island.