Union to seek state money for library renovations

Photo by Brian Trusdell
The Township of Union is preparing to apply for about $5 million in state funding to upgrade its library, left, including the Les Malamut Art Gallery on the lower level of the building.

UNION, N.J. — The township is looking to expand and renovate the public library’s main branch on Morris Avenue, but will need money from funds approved in a state bond referendum three years ago to get the work done.

“We wanted to apply because we knew that we wanted to bring our library up to more modern practices for a library,” township Business Administrator Ron Manzella said in a phone interview on Sept. 26. “So, the township hired Rich Potter, an architect, to undertake the library design which, in cooperation with the library and the librarian, worked on various formats, expanding the footprint with the building.”

Manzella estimates that Union will request about $5 million from the state; the maximum that will be awarded to a township is 50 percent of the cost of construction. The township completely renovation the library, including relocating the main entrance and replacing the electrical system.
Library Director Karen O’Malley said the building plans are not confirmed but that there is still time to prepare the project.

“The grant-funding applications from the state are not ready yet, so we have time to put our project together until that time,” O’Malley said in a Sept. 30 phone interview. “Once we have a final plan projected, though, that won’t necessarily mean we get to do it all, since the state ultimately will choose projects on a competitive basis with many other libraries in the state.”

Voters approved a $125 million bond referendum in 2016 to upgrade the local libraries, and after Potter finalizes the plans, the township’s professional grant writers will then seek funding for the project.

The Union Township Committee does not yet have a due date for submitting its application for state aid, but Manzella stated that there will likely be a three-month window for the submission. Since the township is in the early phases of the project, it is unclear how much funding it will receive.
“As you all know, we’ve been trying to deal with the renovation of the library and, because state funding out there is very competitive, the original plan was to maintain the art gallery, not where it is, but in the basement,” Manzella stated.

He added that the town will have to conform with certain design parameters. For instance,there can’t be any natural lighting inside the art gallery area so as to better preserve works on display.

“We maintain the auditorium look. The problem is, how do you service both the space that is supposed to become the teen center and the art gallery? So, the library talked about it, they talked about it with their consultant. We’re getting more money out of the state on our application if we incorporated the art gallery into the auditorium. They believe they can retain the quality of the art museum, while it’s in the same space as an improved aspect of the library, and then use the space in the basement for the teenagers special interest.”