Haddonfield considers its library options Consultants recommended a new building, but economics and aesthetics may favor the old.

Posted: January 13, 2009

Haddonfield should build a modern library on Haddon Avenue, according to a report delivered to the borough last week. But the town may not be ready to part with its 1919 facility, commissioners say.

Building a larger, handicap-accessible and energy-efficient library would cost about $8.3 million, estimated Library Development Solutions of Princeton Junction, N.J., which the borough commissioned to study the issue.

Many residents love the building and don't want to see it go, Mayor Tish Colombi said. "There's a very wide division here."

So on Friday, borough commissioners issued a request to architects for cost estimates to retrofit and expand the old place.

"Until we can confirm or deny that's possible, we can't move forward," Colombi said.

The economy also is a factor, she said. A library-expansion proposal failed about six years ago because, she said, it was too large and expensive.

"What we learned . . . was that we must have a library that meets the needs of our residents, but it also has to be one that we can afford," she said.

Even before the economic downturn, local governments faced hard choices when trying to meet patrons' increased demands for library services in a state that has the nation's highest property taxes.

Monroe and Washington Townships recently decided to move their libraries into larger existing buildings rather than building new ones. Westville is expanding its library, but will depend largely on a private donation. Moorestown has contemplated renovation vs. construction for almost a decade.

Haddonfield commissioners want architects to price three options for the 12,000-square-foot building: simply to make it accessible to the handicapped; to enlarge it by 7,500 square feet; and to enlarge it by 15,000 square feet.

In its report, Library Development Solutions recommended tearing down the aging structure, which has a leaky roof. The consultants suggested replacing it with a 22,355-square-foot facility.

Voters have to approve any building proposal involving taxpayer money.

In their yearlong study, the consultants conducted focus groups, user surveys and a town meeting. According to their findings, the borough's future library should:

Contain a soundproof children's room.

Have a subdivided high-tech meeting room to accommodate 100 people, almost three times the capacity of the current meeting room.

Make 30 computers available to the public, up from the current 11, to eliminate waiting time.

Offer study tables with power ports.

Get comfortable seating to replace the current "less-than-functional" furniture.

The report, which goes so far as to suggest the ideal number of books on each shelf and chairs at each table, will be presented at a town meeting Feb. 19 at Borough Hall. It's available online at www.haddonfieldlibrary.org and on paper in Room 101 of Borough Hall.

The library board has hired another consultant, Nancy Weber of Oak Ridge Consultants, to raise donations equal to at least half of the cost of improving the library, as the Princeton Public Library did several years ago. Colombi said the borough already had about $750,000 in pledges.

Because so many people value the building, commissioners are wise to consider all options, Library Director Susan Briant said.

"The key word is flexibility," she said. "You only get so many chances to do this."

Contact staff writer Cynthia Henry at 856-779-3970 or chenry@phillynews.com.

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