Red Bank library plans to remain open during renovations
Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 03/12/06

RED BANK Renovation work on the borough library is scheduled to start in late spring, but library officials said it will remain open for most of the eight-month construction period.

Borough Council members approved a $1.2 million contract with Santorini Construction, which is expected to start work sometime in the spring, said Stanley Sickels, borough administrator.

"The plans are to keep the library open through most of the construction," said Deborah Griffin-Sadel, library director. "We'll concentrate services and our collection on the main floor so construction workers can have the areas they need to work in free."

Griffin-Sadel is no stranger to library renovations. She worked at a library in Brooklyn that continued to operate out of a construction trailer while the building was gutted and rebuilt.

"The staff spent a year working out of a trailer," she said. "It was remarkable. We had a quarter of the books and did half the normal circulation."

Conditions won't be as dire in Red Bank during construction, but Griffin-Sadel estimated there will be a few days when the library will have to be closed for the safety or comfort of patrons.

"There probably will be times where it will be closed for a short time when we're working on the main floor," she said. "There will be times when we're doing noisy work or chemical work. The architect says that will be a relatively short time."

A lot of the library's collection will be put in storage, but the most popular and frequently used items will be kept available for circulation, Griffin-Sadel said. The children's collection will be moved upstairs while the lower level is worked on, she said.

The renovation will increase accessibility by creating barrier-free bathrooms and wider aisles, and also installing an elevator to allow patrons who are handicapped to use the library. Officials are meeting with architects about a construction schedule. Griffin-Sadel said work should be completed by the end of 2006 or early 2007.

Work on the library is one of the last requirements the borough must fulfill for an October 2002 settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice that required it bring public facilities in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. That act requires public buildings to be barrier free and accessible to all citizens.

The settlement is the result of a federal lawsuit brought by Carolyn Schwebel of Middletown. While Schwebel's complaint was about the number of handicapped parking spaces and crosswalk paving stones, the Justice Department launched a full investigation into access issues at Red Bank buildings and facilities.

It's taken the borough about a year to get the Justice Department to sign off on plans for a scaled-down elevator that would fit in the library's structure and still make the building accessible.

Schwebel said Red Bank has made progress, but it's taken time.

"It does seem very slow. At first they resisted and there were some givebacks," Schwebel said. "They did what they had to, but they are not a shining example."

Schwebel said people don't realize what barriers are presented to those using walkers, wheelchairs or scooters until they themselves, or friends or family, have a mobility problem.

Part of the renovation will include moving the library's local history collection into the Eisner family living room, which has been used as the library's board room.

"It's a gorgeous room with wood paneling and a fireplace," Griffin-Sadel said.

Library patrons can follow progress of the work through a renovation newsletter on the library's Web site, she said.

Larry Higgs: (732) 643-4277