HILLSIDE — Before the Libraries of Union County Consortium, or LUCC, could even demand answers from Hillside about the 15-month closure of Hillside Public Library, a representative of USA Architects provided them to LocalSource, and has provided a timetable for the opening of the library.
On Friday, Dec. 5, the directors from every Union County Library, with the exception of Hillside, met to determine how to proceed, and came to the conclusion that more answers were needed. Hillside, however, does not have a director, and so LUCC formally decided to draft a letter to all concerned parties.
“At this point we are just formally asking Hillside to let us know when their reopening date will be. Has a replacement director been hired? Basically, we want a status update,” said Dawn Jenkins, director of Clark Public Library and president of LUCC.
LUCC members meet regularly and the Consortium is made up of library directors representing their respective boards of trustees. Hillside, however, currently has no library director, and so the consortium has been left in the dark about the state of the library.
Since the Hillside library shut its doors to the public more than a year ago, residents have been able to use the services of area libraries, such as Union, Elizabeth and Roselle. However, this arrangement has always been based on reciprocity. Without a library, Hillside has been unable to reciprocate for some time.
“We are providing services to Hillside residents and we have been for some time,” said Jenkins. “It is something we have done very well and over the years we have helped each other out. Hillside needs to decide whether they are going to be opening their library or whether they want to make arrangements with another library in the area. We have extended services for the library as a courtesy for an extended period of time and we want to know when Hillside will be getting their library back.”
Late Tuesday, just before press time, LocalSource received answers to many of their questions regarding the building before the Consortium even drafted their letter. Still up in the air, however, is who will be the next director, and what cost the library repairs will be to the taxpayers.
Andrew Adornato, a representative from USA Architects, reached out to LocalSource. According to Adornato, the library may be open as soon as the the week of Feb. 9, but there is much work to be completed first.
“What we are doing right now is we are replacing the floor with a flooring system that will stand the test of time,” he said. “It is a terrazzo-type of system. We have gotten a contractor on board to perform the work.”
According to Adornato, the work on the floor has already started and will be completed in four weeks, or by Jan. 11. At that point, he said, it will take about two weeks to bring all the books back and shelving and furniture back into the library. But some work, he said, has already been completed, and the work that is ongoing will include a little more than just the floors.
“They have fixed the roof that has been in desperate need of repair,” he said. “It is no longer leaking. There will also be some other improvements. They are improving the library staff area and providing more reading areas and group study areas for the community. During the flooring process, some of these design modifications will occur.”
The floor system, according to Adornato, is a synthetic material that is made for both indoor and outdoor use, so should the library flood again, there will be no lasting damage, but he declined to speculate on the potential for future flooding.
“I don’t know the future of anything,” he said. “What I can tell you is that what we are doing to the floor right now, putting down a waterproof membrane that will seal this building up like a bathtub. If it were to flood, there would be no damage or mold growth concerns with the floor.”
USA Architects, he said, was brought on board for the flooring work in early November, but the company has not and will not be performing any of the work. Essentially, the company has provided recommendations to Hillside for contractors to perform the work following extensive investigations.
Adornato did not know the estimated cost of the repairs, nor did he have any comments regarding how the work was performed in the past. USA Architects was simply hired to get the library open, he said.
Previously, it was reported that multiple attempts to perform the floor repairs did not meet the standards set by the township, and possible legal remedies were being pursued by Hillside officials. This, among other things, has contributed to the delay in reopening the library.
Assuming the timetable presented by USA Architects is met, residents and local library directors can set their minds at ease for the moment as fears that Hillside may be suspended from the county consortium will likely be alleviated by this news.
At Elizabeth Public Library, for instance, a statement has recently been posted near the circulation desk warning residents about the situation and asking Hillside and its residents to do more.
“One of the stipulations of the agreement is that, for a library to participate, the municipality of that library must be funding a public library; this allows for fair reciprocity,” the statement reads. “The Elizabeth Public Library has extended services to Hillside, without Hillside providing such reciprocity, since August 2013. Please ask your mayor and your municipal council to address the lack of library services in your community. Hillside cannot expect to indefinitely have these services provided through neighboring communities. And libraries like EPL can ill afford to indefinitely fulfill the needs of Hillside residents. It’s time for Hillside residents to demand from their government the library services for they are being taxed.”
Before this new information by USA Architects was provided to LocalSource, Elizabeth Library Director Mary Faith Chmiel, whose name can be found at the end of the missive, was steadfast in her reservations when reached by LocalSource.
“When a community loses its local public library,” she said, “they not only lose their access to the library, they also lose those resources. Part of the reason we have to address this is because Hillside residents that are upset are coming to us for answers. But we want answers as much as the residents do. We are not the problem. If residents are concerned about their library services, they should be directing their concerns toward their local government.”
It appears the Elizabeth library director, the members of LUCC, and the residents of Hillside may finally have their answers. But the director of the Elizabeth library was still cautious when told of this news, and she was planning on holding out for the official word from the township before removing the statement.
“I would be gratified and strongly reassured if this timeline is accurate and plays out as it is currently being projected,” Chmiel said. “I think residents should definitely be expressing more concern. It’s their tax dollars, and no information has been shared.”
But more than the building itself, Chmiel’s concerns immediately turned to the absence of a library director and to the library’s website, saying residents have been unable to access ebooks and online resources. The library’s website has been down indefinitely.
“If they are really projecting a mid February opening,” she said, “they should be posting that on the website. Without anything written, you still kind of question what’s going on. There have been no postings as far as any of us LUCC libraries know to fill the position of library director. If you plan to open mid February, wouldn’t you think they would be taking on the initiative of recruiting a director now?”