Sunday’s groundbreaking ceremony for the new Highland Library was an event “40 years in the making,” said Joanne Loewenthal, president of the library’s board of trustees. Referring to the many struggles involved in seeing a new library come to fruition in Highland, she told the assembled crowd of supporters, “We’ve arrived on the shoulders of those who came before us. We still have challenges, but this is an opportunity to celebrate how far we’ve come.”
The library has been struggling for decades to find solutions to compensate for a myriad of infrastructure problems in the current library building on Church Street. Mold, foundation cracks and roof leaks were just a few of the problems plaguing the structure. The building is not handicapped-accessible, parking is limited, and the space is just too small to serve the community.
Last year voters approved a bond of up to $4.8 million to build a new library on an empty lot at 7 Elting Place in Highland. The coffers have been sweetened by the addition of $450,000 in grants secured by state senator George Amedore ($200,000) and state assemblyman Frank Skartados ($250,000). The monies were awarded through a state and municipal grant program that provides funding to help localities with capital projects and infrastructure improvements.
Some deride that program as another form of member items doled out by well-connected legislators. Its defenders say it provides for facilities badly needed by localities.
Amedore and Skartados were both present at the groundbreaking on September 25. Amedore spoke first, saying that he was humbled and honored to play a part in the project. “This is a wise investment we’re making in the state for the children and quality of life in Highland going forward,” he said.
Skartados said he “genuinely enjoys attending groundbreaking ceremonies” because they show “progress, improvement and success.” A groundbreaking is “one step closer to opening the doors of what will be a great public asset well into the 21st century. Every community deserves a place where children and adults can come to learn, discover and be mentored.”
Ceremonies got off to a sweet start with the national anthem played instrumentally on flute by talented Highland seventh-grader Olivia Burdash.
Lloyd officials were present, including town clerk Rosalie Peplow and councilman Mike Guerrero. Lloyd town supervisor Paul Hansut noted the difficulties along the way in getting the library project approved. “It was not an easy thing to do, but the community has changed,” he said. “We have many new faces and new families with young children. And part of bringing them here and keeping them here is moving forward. This library project does that.”
The town is partnering with the school district to work on getting grants for constructing sidewalks to enable students and adults to more easily get to the new library, schools, businesses and the rail trail, further connecting and enhancing the town and hamlet.
In her remarks to the assembled, library director Julie Kelsall-Dempsey said the library had just learned they will receive an additional $74,250 grant for library development.
Reverend Thomas Lutz of St. Augustine’s parish, the former owners of the land on which the library will be built, spoke briefly about the importance of libraries. He provided a benediction that included an acknowledgement of service given by our military forces and law-enforcement personnel.
The library design by the architectural firm of Butler Rowland Mays Architects LLP will feature a welcoming reading porch at its entrance, along with a community room that can be cordoned off from the rest of the library and used during off hours. Lead architect Paul Mays was on hand for the groundbreaking, along with Alan Barone of the Barone Construction Group of Highland, which will manage the project and oversee the work once it begins.
The adult circulation area will have cozy chairs to read in. The children’s area will be sized appropriately. A “maker space” will provide a place for kids and adults to work on projects. The teen space will be appealing to that age group while being “gently supervised,” said Loewenthal.
“A library is a gift that a community gives itself,” she noted. “It will enhance our lives and those of the people we pass it on to.”