By The Peninsula Public Library Board of Trustees
We are writing to provide an update regarding the Peninsula Public Library’s proposed relocation and construction project. We are encouraged by the many people throughout the community who have expressed support and enthusiasm for this project and would like to take this opportunity to set the record straight on recent developments and intended next steps.
One year ago, in September 2017, the library entered into a contract with the Village of Lawrence to purchase a parcel of land located at the corner of Central Avenue and Lawrence Avenue in the parking area next to Zion Park. The Lawrence Village Board of Trustees voted unanimously (4-0, 1 absent) to enter into the contract with the library. That same night, the five members of the Library Board of Trustees also voted unanimously to enter into the contract. A binding contract, extensively negotiated by their respective attorneys, was thus mutually agreed upon and signed by the village and the library.
Over the past year, the library and its representatives have worked diligently on this project, continuously providing information to the community and soliciting feedback. Immediately upon entering into the contract, the library issued a press release followed by a second press release in November 2017 to provide an update on the project. In both press releases, the library encouraged residents to submit any questions or comments in person at the Library or via e-mail. In addition, regularly scheduled monthly board meetings have been held at the Library on Central Avenue in Lawrence and are always open to the public.
In April 2018, a public survey sent to the library’s email subscribers, handed out to library visitors, and distributed through local organizations and newspapers received feedback from 868 respondents, including 230 residents of Lawrence, who overwhelmingly supported the new library project. During this time, the library also formed an advisory committee comprised of residents from across the School District to share their perspectives. After careful consideration and much effort, the library published a detailed brochure in July 2018 with a proposed project plan. The purpose of this brochure was to present a comprehensive proposal and to solicit additional feedback from the community before proceeding to a bond referendum.
In many ways, the Village of Lawrence would be the foremost beneficiary of the new library. Lawrence currently has 3,814 cardholders, which is about 26 percent of all the library’s cardholders and more than any other town in the district. About 12 percent of the respondents in the survey said that when they visit the library they usually walk — an option that is most convenient for nearby residents of Lawrence. This project would keep the library in Lawrence and the village would receive $3.3 million from the sale of the property, the proceeds of which could then be used to provide additional benefits and services to residents of Lawrence.
At the same time, some residents of Lawrence who live near the new library site or who commute from the train station are potentially impacted more than other people in the school district. Notably, the availability of parking and the preservation of park land are addressed in the site plan on page 3 of the brochure. There are currently 162 parking spots in this area for Lawrence residents and commuter parking (which is rarely fully utilized). The proposed site plan has 164 parking spots for Lawrence residents and commuter parking and another 38 parking spots for the new library. The addition of 40 parking spots is accomplished by using currently vacant space alongside the train tracks as well as reverting the small strip of grass on the northern edge of Zion Park back to parking spots (from which parking was removed a few years ago and is not zoned as park land). No green space from the park is otherwise affected by this project.
There are a number of benefits and tradeoffs for residents of Lawrence that were contemplated when the village approved and entered into this transaction with the library. The agreed-upon sale of a parcel of property at this location to the library necessarily meant that the village would own less property and that library patrons would now visit this site. After the brochure was published, the Village Board held a public meeting on August 19 to discuss concerns that have been raised by some Lawrence residents regarding this project and to collaborate on a path forward. The library and its architects are working on certain modifications to the building plans to address these concerns and expect to present an updated proposal and hold another public meeting by October/November 2018.
The contract between the village and the library will expire in December 2018 unless a one-year extension is exercised as provided under the contract. Given the ongoing discussions, it is unlikely that modified plans can be finalized and a referendum held before then. While the Library Board represents all residents of the School District and their need for improved library facilities, the Village Board only represents residents of Lawrence. If the Village Board determines that building a library at this location per the modified plans is not in the best interests of their constituents and does not support going forward with this project, then it may be a disappointing outcome for many people in the community but the library cannot continue expending resources on this project for another year without the Village Board’s affirmative and shared commitment to move forward.
Whether the Village Board decides to proceed with this project or if the Library Board needs to explore other options elsewhere in the School District in the future, it is imperative that the School Board of Education work together with the Library Board in this endeavor. The library and school boards both serve the same 35,000 constituents of the school district, which includes Lawrence, Cedarhurst, Inwood, Atlantic Beach, and parts of Woodmere and North Woodmere. The Library serves a vital role for every member of the school district, including students from both public and private schools. Meaningful action is much needed and long overdue to address the library’s undersized and outdated facilities and insufficient parking in order for the library to continue fulfilling its essential mission in the years ahead.
The Library Board has actively pursued opportunities over the years in an effort to locate a new site which could better serve the community. Under New York law, the Library Board has “the power to determine the necessity for construction of library facilities, to select a library site or sites, to select the architect, and to require that the board of education call, give notice of, and conduct a special district meeting … for the purpose of designating and acquiring a site or sites and authorizing the issuance of obligations of the school district for acquisition and construction of library facilities …” Notwithstanding the Library Board’s unambiguous right to select a future library site and to direct the School Board to schedule a vote, as a practical matter, it is difficult for the Library Board to hold a referendum and obtain financing for any new or improved library facilities without the school board’s cooperation.
There is broad consensus that the library’s current facilities do not adequately meet the needs of the school district. A new library could enhance the lives of thousands of families for many years to come. Elected officials and community leaders should work together for the greater good of the community.
Any significant public project like this involves balancing costs and benefits and various other considerations, but a final decision should not be made by the members of any board of trustees nor do a few loud voices speak for the entire community. Ultimately, the democratic process mandated by New York law gives the residents of the school district the right to vote and decide for themselves whether or not they wish to approve a new library. We are hopeful that the residents of the school district will one day soon be afforded their right to vote on this important matter.