Improvements to the structure are several years in the making, and could begin in just a few months.
By Matt Skoufalos
Etched into the chimney atop the Haddonfield Public Library is the number “1917.”
It’s the year to which the original footprint of the building harkens, and as its old bones approach the century mark, there are more than a few creaks and groans in them.
Until adjacent Tanner Street was re-graded a few years back, the basement could take on water in a heavy rainfall.
Deborah Marchand, President of the Haddonfield Library Board of Trustees, said she can recall the warped floor tiles in the basement.
The basement is also where the library bathrooms are located, accessible only via a flight of stairs around the corner from the circulation desk. Although a wheelchair ramp permits access to the front entrance of the library, there is none that leads to the basement.
“ADA compliance is the big thing, but there’s just an overall functionality challenge with this building as it is now,” Marchand said.
Creating ‘a consistent look and feel’
Rehabilitating the building to make it compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act is just one among a laundry list of improvements–from the roof to the heating to the electrical system–that the facility has needed for years.
Upgrades may soon be on the way, however, in the form of public and private funds.
Haddonfield borough commissioners are considering a $1.5 to $2 million project that would expand the building another 2,000 square feet towards Tanner Street and renovate its basic elements.
That budget would be supplemented by private funds pooled from the nonprofit Haddonfield Foundation and Haddonfield Friends of the Library to help buy new furniture and update the interior, Marchand said.
“The borough is responsible for the infrastructure; the library is responsible for reconfiguration of the space,” she said.
“We’re trying to create a consistent look and feel to the library that’s modern and approachable, and right now we have neither.”
Library Director Susan Briant said that Friends of the Haddonfield Library “have been saving hard to do this.”
“Friends of the Library have long pledged funds, and I don’t think they’d be upset if I said it’s in the vicinity of about $90,000 for this project,” Briant said.
‘Use is booming’
An environmental upgrade is just one aspect of what’s needed for a library that has some 120,000 visits a year and circulates around 135,000 items, Briant said.
“Virtual use is certainly booming too,” she said.
“People don’t come in the building, but they use eBooks, downloadable audio books, [and we’re]going into music and movies in October.”
Former Haddonfield Mayor Eugene Kain, who serves as vice-president of the library’s board of trustees, said the renovations are some 20 years in the making.
In the late 1990s, he said, the borough had convened a task force that dreamed a little too big about what the library expansion could be. In the meantime, the economy changed, and state funds to help with library construction dried up.
The current project is a compromise, in that it will achieve the necessary repairs to get the library ADA-compliant, but won’t trigger a voter referendum to do so, Kain said.
“It’s not the ideal scenario, but it’s the scenario we have,” he said.
Even constrained by state regulations governing the treatment of historic libraries, Kain said the entire progression helped him realize the degree of activity his hometown library sees, even though it is not part of the Camden County system.
“This is a small building, but it would compete for use with any of the libraries in the state,” he said.
“We also have a really good staff here that’s really supportive of the community, who live here and work here, who are so willing to go out of their way,” she said.
“Our objective is to furnish this building…so that we can service what is coming down the road.”
In addition to the necessities, the renovations would add an elevator, one large meeting room, and downsize the collection in favor of additional electronic resources.
During the estimated five to six months that the work will require, the Haddonfield collection is likely to be housed temporarily in the Grace Episcopal Church, although no agreement to do has yet been entirely finalized.
If approved by the borough commissioners at their August 19 regular meeting, the proposal would have to clear an additional meeting in September, and then the work could begin in the fall.