By Maddy Vitale
The Ocean City Free Public Library is hoping to secure state grants to provide funding for a major $1.3 million renovation project to enhance and expand the facility’s second floor.
But the process for obtaining those grants is taking time and it could push the project start date into the winter instead of the fall, library officials said.
On July 1, library officials will know whether the facility qualifies for state matching grants or if they are to proceed without the additional funds.
The building improvements consist of an expansion of the young adults section, new furnishings, brighter lighting and more quiet space for study time as well as a “maker space” for do-it-yourself types of projects.
“With taxpayer money we want to do our due diligence,” Jennifer Shirk, president of the Library Board of Trustees, said in an interview Monday before a trustees meeting. “Unfortunately, while we want the project done as quickly as possible, there is a process. We want to be fiscally responsible and we want it done right.”
Members of the library’s Board of Trustees and city officials agreed on the best way to ensure the project is built without placing a burden on taxpayers, even before they discussed matching state grants.
Funding for the renovation project will come from the city’s library tax. The library tax will not increase to finance construction and the city agreed to bond the project. The library has agreed to pay back the city for the bonds.
Karen Mahar, the library director, learned of grants through the Library Construction Bond Act. Although it has delayed the project, it could result in a savings to the community in the long run, officials noted.
“In November of 2017 there was $125 million in matching grant money from the state,” Mahar said of the pool of money. “I looked into it to see if our library could qualify. We have a lot of funding, so I didn’t think we would. When I got in touch with my contact at the state library and found out it is a matching grant and we did qualify, I was hopeful we would get it.”
If the library is unsuccessful in obtaining the grants, the project will go on as planned in the fall, officials said. However, construction would likely begin in the winter if the city secures the grants because of the review process needed for the funding.
Architect William McLees of William McLees Architecture in Somers Point is handling the plan to modernize the facility and make it more user-friendly.
Here is a link to the project’s rendering: https://ocnjdaily.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/library-renovation-rendering-2.pdf
The library, located in the Ocean City Community Center, at 1735 Simpson Ave., has needed updates for a while, officials said. It was built in 1990 and expanded in 2008 but has not undergone a renovation since then.
The library is a hub of activity for patrons. In addition to all types of books, there are daily events, programs and lectures.
Both Shirk and Mahar explained that with a change in the state administration, the new governor, Phil Murphy, is taking longer than they had expected to make decisions on which libraries qualify for matching grants.
“Karen (Mahar) did excellent research into the grants,” Shirk noted.
The two remain hopeful that the grants will be made available to offset the costs of the renovation. If so, then the project will go forward in the winter. If not, the fall is still the plan, they said.
“We know in the end it was the best thing,” Shirk said of looking into ways to save the taxpayers’ money. “We are ready to go. We have the architectural drawings and the engineering plans in place, and we are in touch with the city. We feel even if we aren’t eligible, by waiting, we did what we could for the taxpayers.”
For more information visit the Ocean City Free Public Library at www.oceancitylibrary.org or call 609-399-2434.