WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange Township Council unanimously approved an ordinance on second and final reading at its June 28 meeting appropriating $850,000 and issuing $807,500 worth of bonds for various capital projects, including several improvements to the West Orange Public Library.
The ordinance designates $617,500 in bonds to the WOPL, with total appropriations for the library amounting to $650,000. The money fulfills a promise the township made earlier this year to fund the library’s five-year, $1.5 million capital improvements plan, starting with the renovations laid out for the first year. That includes the replacement of the library’s Edison wing facade, which collapsed in January 2015.
Township engineer Leonard Lepore said the facade replacement, which he estimated will cost $300,000, should go out to bid soon, with the hope that the Township Council can award a contract in August. He said the project is expected to be completed in the months that follow.
“We feel comfortable that this facade can be finished by wintertime,” Lepore told the West Orange Chronicle in a July 4 phone interview.
The new facade will be brick as before, though Lepore said thinner bricks will be used this time in a design that makes another collapse highly unlikely. The engineer explained that the bricks will be inserted into panels that are attached to the wall framing. That way, he said the load will be spread throughout the wall rather than it relying on one particular part of the system to carry the weight, as with the previous design. The original facade collapse was caused by a chain reaction when concrete along a beam failed, leading anchors on the beam to lose hold of a steel angle that was supporting all the bricks.
But the facade is not the only project the township wants to complete. Lepore said another major goal is to make the library bathrooms compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, a project that he estimated will cost $125,000. Beyond that, he said the town hopes to upgrade the bathrooms’ plumbing fixtures and accessories, replace the hot water heater, put in a new water pressure reducing valve, replace the fire alarm and detection system, add a new electric panel and replace the chimney cap to prevent water from leaking into the building. He said he does not know whether all of these projects will be completed within the first year, but the plan is to solicit proposals and go through each one systematically.
All of these projects are expected to be covered by the bonds, Lepore said. Of course, he said the bonds were granted based on estimated costs — anticipated expenses could always change.
“As we bid these projects and have this work done, we’ll see if there’s sufficient money for all these projects,” Lepore said. “Sometimes as you start this work — particularly renovation work — you may find some other hidden problems that need to be addressed, and that affects the cost of the project.”
If the costs exceed the amount of the bonds, Lepore said the township will have to scale back on the scope of the improvements.
Meanwhile, Mayor Robert Parisi said the township remains committed to funding additional improvements from the WOPL’s plan over the next few years. But Parisi said the exact amount it will issue in bonds annually will vary depending on costs.
What is certain, Parisi said, is that the township wants to help the library.
“We understand that money is often tight,” Parisi told the Chronicle in a July 1 phone interview. “(The library) is an important part of our community, and we thought this was a good way to work together with them to handle some of these big-ticket items so they can focus their resources on providing books and programming for the community.”
The WOPL is certainly grateful for the township’s help. Library board Chairwoman Sheri Prupis said she is “very excited” to see the bonds come through as promised, which means that the facade will finally be replaced soon. That is a good thing, Prupis said, because the library building would not do well in a harsh winter without a facade.
Prupis added that she also appreciates the township’s willingness to accept the WOPL’s input. Though a design committee consisting of Lepore, Parisi, business administrator Jack Sayers, CFO John Gross and Director of Staff Operations James Abbott made final decisions on the project, Prupis said the WOPL leadership was able to work closely with them. And that meant a lot to the chairwoman.
“It’s a town building, so in theory they can make all decisions without bringing in the library,” Prupis told the Chronicle in a July 1 phone interview. “But we’re one community, and we’re lucky that we have a mayor and town council and administration as well as a library director that treats us all as one community.”
Once work begins on the facade, Prupis warned that the library will have to change some things to protect patrons’ safety. Specifically, she said parking will be closed occasionally, the book drop will probably be moved to the front and parts of the building may even be closed off. But it will all be worthwhile once the construction is completed.
“It think it’s going to look beautiful and, from everyone we spoke to, it looks like it’s going to hold up quite well,” Prupis said, adding that the brick design and coloring were chosen to complement the township buildings nearby. “I think it’ll have a really nice, fresh, updated look to it.”
Library Director David Cubie is also happy to receive the bonds, though he is already thinking about what projects outside the scope of the capital-improvements plan he would like to get done. At the top of his list is converting some basement space into classrooms and meeting rooms so that the WOPL can offer regular English as a second language courses as other libraries do. Currently, he said the WOPL does not have enough space to accommodate 15 or 20 students on a weekly or biweekly basis.
To achieve that goal, Cubie said he plans to work with the library’s nonprofit foundation and friends group to raise money. And while both were activated only recently, he said the volunteers involved have accomplished a lot so far. He said the friends raised nearly $2,000 at its recent street fair tables, and they are planning to hold their first large book sale in October.
“They’re doing amazing work,” Cubie told the Chronicle in a June 30 phone interview.