MAPLEWOOD, NJ — The Maplewood Memorial Library will receive $8.3 million in funding from the state to expand the Baker Street building, as Gov. Phil Murphy delivered a list of proposed projects to the New Jersey State Legislature on Nov. 5. The legislature must approve the appropriations for the bond awards, which come from the 2017 voter-approved Library Construction Bond Act. Maplewood’s project is one of 38 to be recommended to receive funding, out of 129 applications received.
“Our library is the heart of our community. Nearly 1,000 children, teens, adults and seniors benefit daily from our services, but our physical plant is badly out of date,” Maplewood Library Board President Kate McCaffrey said in a press release on Nov. 6. “The $8.3 million state grant, along with township funds and support from the private sector, will allow us to provide the crucial upgrades that are necessary to serve our community. This is welcome news during very anxious and difficult times.”
Each library that receives state money must provide a 50-percent match to fund its project. According to the release, the project for the main branch of the library will include total reconstruction of the building to make it a two-story building. It will have a redesigned main entrance with public spaces on the first floor, and centrally located elevators and restrooms for better accessibility.
The overall plan for the library will increase library space by 35 percent, seating by 77 percent and collections by 4 percent. Public meeting space will grow from 226 square feet to 400 square feet.
“A new 233-seat Community Room will offer exterior access for use after library hours, state-of-the-art audio and video technology with amplification equipment for the hearing impaired, and a full-service kitchen,” the press release read. “A 16-seat conference room will include smartboard/flat-screen technology and audiovisual equipment. Three collaboration rooms and two larger rooms will be available for meetings, presentations, webinars and conferences. Four quiet study rooms will each accommodate one to two users.”
A separate children’s program room will be built and located adjacent to a “children’s zone” and will feature flexible seating for 60 people and a craft area. The adult area will be updated with 150 seats.
“Internet bandwidth will be expanded. Public computing in the new building will be a mix of stationary public computers and mobile devices, and seating for computer use will increase by 69 percent,” the press release read. “A state-of-the-art makerspace/computer lab will support STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) learning. The space will be supported by wireless and wired internet connectivity and equipped with mobile laptops, color printers, 3D printers, scanners and digital media creation technology.”
The project is rounded out with a new business center, with conference and study rooms, and the establishment of a local history center with 1,000 items.
Assembly members Mila Jasey and John McKeon, who both represent Maplewood in the state Legislature, released a joint statement on Nov. 6 in support of the project.
“In the age of smartphones, tablets and access to unlimited information at the touch of a button, libraries have become about so much more than just books. Libraries are community spaces, offering a variety of family programs, enrichment classes and access to high-speed internet,” they said. “During the pandemic, local libraries have expanded their reach to offer curbside service, home delivery for seniors and Zoom presentations. Their role in their communities has never been more important. This support from the Bond Act will help the Maplewood Library to continue growing and innovating.”
According to the release, the design of the new library will address social-distancing guidelines and best public health practices as the COVID-19 pandemic is still prevalent. The architecture firm hired for the project is Sage and Coombe Architects.
“This is such fantastic news,” Library Director Sarah Lester said in the press release. “We look forward to building an accessible, inspiring and technologically advanced library that will serve the Maplewood community for years to come.”