Assembly panel ponders $90 million in funding to upgrade local, county libraries

Librarian wish lists include greater access for residents with disabilities, bridging digital divide in poorer communities
Credit: ellen forsyth via Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0
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Legislation that calls for spending nearly $90 million in state funding to upgrade dozens of local and county libraries throughout New Jersey is up for approval in a key Assembly committee on Thursday.

The funding comes from a $125 million bond issue that won widespread approval from New Jersey voters three years ago.

But the bonds themselves weren’t sold until earlier this year, and it took until last week for Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration to put forward a list of 38 projects that will be funded with the bond proceeds, pending signoff from lawmakers.

Members of the Assembly Appropriations Committee are planning to hold the first vote on legislation that would appropriate $86.5 million from the library bond issue on Thursday at 1 p.m. The measure, which appears on track to win final approval in both houses before the end of the year, also appropriates another $960,650 to cover administrative costs.

Breaking ground for books — and beyond

“We are eager to see local libraries break ground on these much-needed projects, which will make library facilities safer, more efficient and more accessible for all people,” said New Jersey State Librarian Mary Chute after Murphy announced his administration’s recommendations last week.

In the run-up to the 2017 ballot question, library officials argued that it had been nearly two decades since the state last issued bonds to pay for a major capital-project initiative for libraries. They also said that facilities across the state were having a hard time keeping pace with rising demand, and many were also struggling to overcome a digital divide due to outdated technology.

A survey of members conducted a year later by the New Jersey Library Association found that close to 140 libraries were planning to expand or renovate facilities to make them accessible to the disabled in line with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Only 12% indicated they would definitely make improvements without state funding.

Under the terms of the 2017 bond act — which won the approval of roughly 60% of those who cast ballots that year — the state funding will cover half the cost of each project, with local libraries covering the rest either through county or municipal funding, money raised by their “friends of” organizations, private donations or other means. The bond act also delegated approval of projects that would be eligible for funding to the president of Thomas Edison University and the state librarian.

But it took until January 2020 for the Murphy administration to issue an initial $87.5 million out of the $125 million in debt that was authorized by voters in 2017.

Choosing first-round awards

More than 120 applications were submitted for review to receive the first batch of funding available for the library projects following this year’s bond sale, administration officials said last week. The projects submitted to lawmakers for final approval are in 16 counties and encompass everything from major renovations to safety, HVAC and technology upgrades. A second round of awards is planned for the first quarter of 2021, the officials said.

The following is a list of the 38 projects that would receive funding under the legislation up for review in the State House on Thursday:

  • $379,960 to the Atlantic City Free Public Library in Atlantic City, Atlantic County
  • $322,091 to the Atlantic County Hammonton Branch Library in Hammonton, Atlantic County
  • $175,000 to the Avon Public Library in Avon-By-The-Sea Borough, Monmouth County
  • $1,000,000 to the Free Public Library and Cultural Center of Bayonne in Bayonne, Hudson County
  • $37,500 to the Bernardsville Public Library in Bernardsville Borough, Somerset County
  • $3,447,081 to the Cape May County Library at Historic Franklin Street School in Cape May, Cape May County
  • $2,329,500 to the Cranbury Public Library in Cranbury Township, Middlesex County
  • $524,142 to the Cumberland County Library in Bridgeton, Cumberland County
  • $1,200,000 to the Dover Free Public Library in Dover, Morris County
  • $500,000 to the East Orange Public Library in East Orange, Essex County
  • $3,497,500 to the Fanwood Memorial Library in Fanwood Borough, Union County
  • $600,000 to the Franklin Township Public Library in Franklin Township, Gloucester County
  • $1,314,000 to the Franklin Township Public Library, Southern Branch, in Franklin Park, Somerset County
  • $889,000 to the Freehold Public Library in Freehold Borough, Monmouth County
  • $130,404 to the Garfield Public Library in Garfield, Bergen County
  • $980,837 to the Hunterdon County Library in Flemington, Hunterdon County
  • $5,000,000 to the Jersey City Public Library in Jersey City, Hudson County
  • $1,525,475 to the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library in Wallington, Bergen County
  • $90,000 to the Leonia Public Library in Leonia Borough, Bergen County
  • $1,100,000 to the Lincoln Park Public Library in Lincoln Park Borough, Morris County
  • $8,388,250 to the Maplewood Memorial Library in Maplewood Township, Essex County
  • $3,262,260 to the Millville Public Library in Millville, Cumberland County
  • $1,950,000 to the Monmouth County Library Headquarters in Manalapan, Monmouth County
  • $248,640 to the Monroe Township Library in Monroe Township, Middlesex County
  • $5,375,000 to the Montgomery Township Branch (Somerset County Library System) in Montgomery Township, Somerset County
  • $507,000 to the Paramus Public Library in Paramus Borough, Bergen County
  • $2,999,530 to the Parsippany-Troy Hills Public Library, Lake Hiawatha Branch in Lake Hiawatha, Morris County
  • $734,812 to the Paterson Danforth Memorial Library in Paterson, Passaic County
  • $9,364,500 to the Pennsauken Free Public Library in Pennsauken Township, Camden County
  • $150,000 to the Red Bank Public Library in Red Bank Borough, Monmouth County
  • $292,750 to the Ringwood Public Library in Ringwood Borough, Passaic County
  • $263,159 to the River Edge Public Library in River Edge Borough, Bergen County
  • $5,500,000 to the Roselle Public Library in Roselle Borough, Union County
  • $3,586,852 to the South Brunswick Public Library in South Brunswick Township, Middlesex County
  • $3,080,875 to the Sussex County Library System (Dennis Memorial Library Branch) in Newton, Sussex County
  • $139,705 to the Totowa Public Library in Totowa Borough, Passaic County
  • $12,500,000 to the West New York Public Library in West New York, Hudson County
  • $3,098,217 to the West Orange Public Library in West Orange Township, Essex County.