By ERIN ROLL
The Montclair Public Library has hopes for the Bellevue Avenue branch, including the prospect of additional staff and hours, as well as a proposed new space for events.
The library wants to hire a full-time branch manager and add two or three Bellevue-dedicated part-time staffers, Library Director Peter Coyl said. Currently Bellevue staffers are rotated from the main branch and the library is without a branch manager.
Hiring dedicated staff would allow the Bellevue branch to be open for 50 hours a week, rather than the current 30.
But that depends on whether the township approves the library’s budget request.
For 2019, the library trustees are seeking $3,648,093. Of that, $2,600,327 is the minimum required based on population and town assessment. The remaining $1,047,776 would be in additional funding from the township.
Last year, the library received $3,418,093, which included $2,436,052 – the minimum budget requirement based on population and town assessment – plus another $982,040 in additional funding from the township.
The requested budget would represent a $230,000 increase from last year.
The Bellevue Library closed in 2010 due to budget cutbacks, but re-opened on a limited schedule in 2011.
Library officials are hoping the mayor and council will approve the additional funds in order to expand the Bellevue hours.
“We are budgeting for a Branch Manager at Bellevue to be around $76,000 [including benefits] and are hoping to hire tow to three part-time staffers to help with additional hours at a cost of around $36,600. We currently use staff from the main library at a cost of $48,115. These staff would be added to that cost,” Coyl said.
The library is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesday through Saturdays, 2 -6 p.m. Saturday hours are when school is in session. Unlike the main branch on South Fullerton Avenue, the Bellevue Avenue branch does not have Sunday hours. With the extended hours, the branch would be able to have year-round Saturday hours, as well as to open two evenings a week.
“A lot of customers have expressed disappointment that they can’t go to the library in the evening when they get off work,” Coyl said.
“Since we’re not really open, we’re not really providing any programs,” Coyl said.
A preliminary design presented to the board of trustees in March includes a glass-sided addition attached to the existing structure.
The plans include making the library ADA accessible with the addition of an elevator and a wheelchair-accessible entrance.
Not being ADA accessible is another hindrance to providing programs. “We want the library to be accessible to everyone,” Coyl said.
The Bellevue Avenue branch was built in 1914 as a Carnegie-funded library and is listed on both state and national historic registers.
Coyl emphasized that any changes to the library could only be done with the permission of the Montclair Historic Preservation Commission and the State Historic Preservation Office. For the latter, the library would have to submit detailed construction documents for approval.
“We’re months away from getting any sort of plan submitted to the State Historic Preservation Office,” Coyl said.
The addition would also add space for special events.
“Libraries have changed in 104 years since the Bellevue [branch] was built,” Coyl said. The building itself is of historical and architectural value, and that will also need to be taken into consideration, he said.
The Bellevue plans call for renovations totaling $680,000, not including $250,000 for parking and landscape site work and $2.2 million for the addition. Funding is still being discussed, but would come from state allocations and municipal funds.
Bellevue highlights include an addition slightly smaller than the original building in size; adding another entrance with the addition; a large public space and classroom on the first level; an option to create a teen area and more children programming space; two classrooms and two ADA bathrooms on the lower level; and an elevator.
The Friends of the Bellevue Library have expressed concerns about the preliminary design that was presented in March.
Friends of the Bellevue Library member Lisanne Renner, in a letter to the library administration in May said, “As someone who is keenly aware, not only of the history and architecture that make this library so special, but of the importance of preserving our nation’s Carnegie libraries, I have deep concerns that the proposed expansion could erode the historic integrity of this National Register building,” Renner wrote.