Great Neck Library referendum draws heat

Jessica Ablamsky

In a vote 20 years in the making, residents will decide the fate of a $20.8 million library construction bond Tuesday, Oct. 25.

If approved, the Main Branch of the Great Neck Library would be closed for up to two years in a renovation and expansion that would add more than 8,600-square feet and make the building accessible to patrons with disabilities. In place of the Main library would be a temporary location.

“I ask that you vote on the issues and facts, not a rumor,” said Great Neck Library President Janet Esagoff Oct. 18 at the last trustee meeting before the referendum.

Esagoff opened the meeting, which was attended by more than 40 people, by reading a statement regarding the “baseless attempts” to link her own personal crisis to the referendum. Her son, Sam Eshaghoff, faces up to four years in prison after allegedly taking the SATs for six other Great Neck North High School students.

Great Neck Library Trustee Josie Pizer echoed Esagoff’s call for a vote on the facts, not rumors.

“I feel wonderful about what we’ve done,” she said. “The board has worked very hard.”

Construction would do away with the mezzanine, make the library ADA compliant, isolate computers, and expand the children’s room, teen center, and audiovisual department.

Renovation and expansion would cost about $80 per year for a house assessed at $1 million.

A plan rejected by trustees, Option A, would have renovated the Main Branch without an expansion, according to documents from the library. It was estimated to cost $15 million, an additional $50 per year in property taxes on a house assessed at $1 million.

Library expansion has been the center of intense controversy, with active opposition provided by the Great Neck Library Watchdog, and support from The Committee for a 21st Century Library. Both groups have run ads in the Great Neck News.

Criticism has centered around the 8,600 square foot addition, with an ad by the Watchdog saying construction would turn Udall’s Pond into a “muddy construction site;” that the bond, which authorizes up to 5.75 percent interest, is a junk bond rate; and Great Neck deserves a board that “can plan and execute,” not one that is “inept, inefficient, and inexperienced.”

The Committee for a 21st Century Library members have said this is not a vote about the effectiveness of trustees, the expansion is a “moderate” increase in size, and a yes vote will “reaffirm” the community’s commitment to maintaining “the highest quality public institutions.”

If the project is turned down trustees could put out the exact same referendum, which could take at least 60 days, put out an amended referendum, or choose some other option, said Great Neck Library Director Jane Marino, during a tour of the library for the Great Neck News.

On the lower level, much of the addition would be occupied by an expanded children’s department, while technical services, a book processing department currently located on the lower level, would be moved to a smaller space.

Marino said the overcrowded children’s room would be transformed into a kid-friendly area, with low stacks kids can reach and adults can see over. The current layout finds children seven to 10 years old reaching for books at the top of stacks intended for adults.

Most of the kids’ foreign language books are housed on rolling stacks, with children’s picture books spread into different areas.

“I was a children’s librarian and I have trouble finding things here,” Marino said.

A brand new young adult room would abut the popular teen program Levels, which will remain largely untouched. Levels will not close during construction, Marino said.

A renovation of the community room would update the sound system and acoustics, and include more comfortable chairs.

The most popular department, audiovisual, is currently hidden at the end of a maze-like series of twists and turns that pass Levels, the business department, and the snack bar.

“Meanwhile, we’ve got people studying under the stairs because we don’t have any room,” said Marino, pointing out a couple of teens who were, in fact, studying at a private table under the stairs.

For students who prefer walls to stairwells, the renovated Main Branch would include study rooms.

Construction would do away with the mezzanine, which houses fiction, biographies, and some bound periodicals. It is supported by the stacks below, and would be cost prohibitive to rebuild, Marino said.

She said new releases would be featured prominently next to an extended front entrance.

“We are not going to make the pond a muddy construction site,” she said. “We are going to make the pond better.”

The project will capture nearly all the runoff from the library roof and parking lot, versus no runoff captured now.

Renovation will also include solar panels, which will pay for themselves in 15 to 20 years, and radiant slabs, which will warm the floor of the children’s room, according to Marino. Denied by trustees without discussion or cost-benefit analysis was a green roof, which saves energy by growing plants on the roof, and a retention tank that stores rain water for use on landscaping.

“I think word’s gotten out,” Marino said. “Vote how you want, but just vote.”

Polls will be open Tuesday, Oct. 25 from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Eligible to vote in the referendum are Great Neck residents and New Hyde Park residents served by the Great Neck school district.

Residents living south of the LIRR station will vote at Great Neck South High School at 341 Lakeville Road. Residents north of the LIRR will vote at the E.M. Baker Elementary School, 69 Baker Hill Road.

Absentee ballots can be obtained from the Great Neck school district clerk’s office at the Phipps Administration Building at 345 Lakeville Road, online at the school district web site, or any library branch. They can be delivered by hand until the day before the election.

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Jessica Ablamsky

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