County proposes new chapter for Pinelands Branch library in
Burlington County Times
By Danielle Camilli Staff writer | Posted: Thursday, February 14, 2013 5:00 pm
County officials have rejected Medford’s latest proposal in the ongoing dispute over the Pinelands Branch library, but has countered with its own plan to modernize the operation.
While the proposal would keep the Allen Avenue building open and renovate it to meet what the county deems as today’s library needs, the plan does not address the Medford Township Council’s ongoing concerns with the municipality’s financial share of the annual costs to run the building.
On Thursday, Mayor Frank Czekay said he agreed with the county’s vision for modernizing the Pinelands Branch and appreciated the Burlington County Board of Freeholders’ willingness to “open dialogue” about its future.
“I thought it was an excellent letter,” Czekay said of the county’s written counterproposal.
Medford’s next step is to review and respond to the county’s latest proposal. The Township Council will discuss it during Tuesday’s scheduled executive session, Czekay said.
The township has raised questions about the $30,000 it spends annually for maintenance, utilities and insurance as the host of the branch since residents also pay $1 million in library taxes to support the county system. The county, as it does for its other branch libraries, picks up the rest of the cost, including the collection and personnel.
The county has pledged one-time assistance to Medford and has agreed to pay up to $30,000 this year to help the financially strapped community. But it also said the township needs to pick up the cost going forward and plan for the library’s future if it’s to stay open and continue as a county branch.
Without a signed agreement that Medford will pay the annual cost share and improve the library to meet modern needs, Freeholder Leah Arter, the liaison to the Library Commission, would not outright commit to the Pinelands Branch remaining open when asked at Wednesday’s freeholders meeting.
“We will have library service in the Pinelands area,” Arter said when pressed by a Medford resident on whether a library would stay in town.
While Arter said she hoped that the county’s new proposal would be accepted and that the branch would remain in the downtown Medford Village, she stressed that the facility needs to be updated.
She indicated that the Pinelands Branch is “inadequate” for serving the community’s needs and suggested that the township-owned building must be upgraded or replaced and that Medford could opt out of the county system if it chose not to comply.
In turn, Medford presented a plan to the county, which neither party would publicly share, but which the county has rejected. Arter on Wednesday sent a letter to mayors in Lumberton, Medford, Medford Lakes, Shamong, Southampton, Tabernacle and Woodland outlining a proposal that would abandon 10-year-old plans that called for a 20,000-square-foot branch and focus on revamping the 6,000-square-foot Pinelands library.
“The county requests your fair consideration of this pilot plan in concept, and asks that you work with us toward a cost-share agreement that is fair and reasonable for Medford residents, and residents of surrounding communities who wish to use a functional and modern Pinelands Branch library,” Arter wrote.
Under the proposal, the county asks Medford to be part of a “joint pilot program” that would modernize the current Pinelands library. The “conceptual improvement plan” calls for the building’s interior to be totally renovated and restructured into three distinct areas.
There would be a larger area for programs and meeting space; a small “adult” reading room with best-sellers and other popular titles available and a quiet area to read; and a new computer room/cyber café with the building’s computers in one place and a focus on electronic media, including increasing popular downloadable e-books.
“Currently, computers are haphazardly placed about the library because of space constraints,” Arter wrote in her letter. “But this separate area will address the changing demands of library users.”
Arter said she recognizes the plan does not address the current parking shortage at the library.
“Frankly, it will take some creative ideas to address this space shortage, and an evaluation of the existing site and neighboring properties,” she wrote.
Once an agreement is settled, Czekay said, local officials will begin discussions about their options for rehabilitating the facility or creating a library elsewhere in town. He said a modern library must meet the needs of a 21st-century community, including access to online resources and WiFi, as well as meeting spaces, a children’s area and some paper materials.
Czekay seemed confident that a deal would be brokered to keep the library open.
“Any rumors out there about the library closing are completely unfounded,” he said.
Staff writer Kristen Coppock contributed to this story.