WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange Township Council approved a resolution with a vote of 3-2 that designated the West Orange Public Library as an area in need of redevelopment at its March 19 meeting, after a motion by Councilman Joe Krakoviak to table the vote was voted down. Both Krakoviak and Councilwoman Cindy Matute-Brown voted in favor of tabling the resolution and against passing it. The resolution authorizes the township to retain Heyer, Gruel and Associates, the planning firm that conducted the study that determined the library qualified as an area in need of redevelopment, to draft a plan for the property.
“I think it’s vitally important that the author of the redevelopment study comes to a council meeting and actually presents and answers questions from the council and from the public,” Krakoviak said at the meeting. “These redevelopment projects tend to be very important issues for the township.”
Councilwoman Susan McCartney said the public was given a chance to ask questions and hear the planner’s presentation at the March 12 West Orange Planning Board meeting, at which the Planning Board unanimously approved the proposal.
“The plan was that the planner was to come to the Planning Board, the board makes a recommendation and then the council votes on it,” McCartney said. “That was the public hearing, that’s where the planner was available. We’ve already had the public hearing and there was no reason for the planner to be here.”
When the resolution to conduct the study was introduced in December, Mayor Robert Parisi said the administration was trying to determine if senior citizen housing could be built above the existing library, which currently has two levels. The plan will also consider the possibility of relocating the library to the Executive Drive section of Essex Green.
The library staff and its board of trustees have been involved in the process, and Library Director Dave Cubie attended the meeting to speak to the council.
“We greatly appreciate the public interest and the community support of the library and we look forward to the studies that are being done and the opportunities for the public input once all options have been clarified,” Cubie said.
Friends of the West Orange Public Library President Jerry Sweeney also spoke at the meeting, saying that the library is in need of upgrades.
“Effectively the resolution, if you adopt it, will be a determination that a new library is needed for West Orange,” Sweeney said. “It doesn’t say where it will be, how you get to it, what it will look like, and I think you’ll have a number of options for those things.”
West Orange resident Kevin Malanga urged the council to vote against the resolution, saying that the library should not qualify as an area in need of redevelopment.
“Does the West Orange Public Library look blighted to you?” Malanga said at the meeting. “No reasonable person would argue that. The information in the report compared our library to libraries throughout the country and included communities that were much larger than West Orange. A more proper comparison is with libraries in New Jersey, and when that is done West Orange fares very well.”
West Orange’s library was compared to three other libraries in the report; they are located in Acadia Parish, La.; Oak Forest, Ill.; and Latrobe, Pa. Of the four libraries, West Orange has the second-most visits per year at 153,015. Only the Adams Memorial Library in Pennsylvania has more, with 156,707.
Janice Johnson Dias, another West Orange resident, discussed the benefits of the library’s current location and encouraged council members to consider keeping it in the same location as they go forward in creating a plan.
“I work across the street and I have students from Newark who come to work in our office, and they have been interning at the library,” Dias said at the meeting. “The library has been training them in how to catalog books, how to learn the library system and how to conduct research. That is made possible because we have a bus that runs outside the library on Main Street.”
She also pointed out that if the library is moved, it should be made clear how long the town would be without a library.
“If you do choose to move it, that will take some time,” Dias said. “Think about how disruptive that would be for the kind of social and emotional development, as well as the literacy, of the young people who are the users of the library.”
Parisi said there is not yet a plan for the current library. He also said that the possibility of relocating the library is not a new one, as the library board of trustees has attempted to begin the process in the past.
“We would be entirely irresponsible if we were not looking at every possible opportunity to improve our community,” Parisi said. “Maybe some of us might say the library isn’t blighted in your specific definition. Should we as a community decide that we should wait until the thing has fallen apart to do something? When the opportunity came up, we thought it was worth exploring — however, not without a reasonable plan and an ambitious plan for what could be there.”