More educational space, an upgraded heating and air conditioning system, and additional parking were decidedly the top priorities for community members who attended Saturday’s workshop to discuss possible improvements to the Hampton Bays Public Library.
These and other potential projects were discussed during a four-hour meeting inside the Ponquogue Avenue library, organized to solicit community input on a potential 20-year bond that the library’s Board of Directors could seek public approval for as early as this fall.
Library Director Susan LaVista said the library must float a bond—an exact amount is still being decided, though officials say it will be at least $1 million—to cover necessary maintenance work, including the installation of a new roof, a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, and insulation, or else make drastic cuts to current library programs. The cost of those essential upgrades alone should total about $1 million, according to projections assembled by Tuckahoe-based Sandpebble Builders, which also helped run Saturday’s meeting.
Ms. LaVista said a $1 million bond would cost the average hamlet homeowner, whose home is now assessed at $450,000, about an additional $7 a year in annual library taxes over the next two decades. Currently, the average taxpayer is paying approximately $263 in library taxes this year, helping fund the facility’s $2.13 million operating budget. The tax rate now stands at roughly 58 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation.
Sandpebble owner Victor Canseco led Saturday’s meeting, opening by outlining the numerous structural problems that surfaced when his firm conducted an assessment of the 20,000-square-foot, single-story building last year. Mr. Canseco showed images of withered caulking around windows, cracks in the building’s foundation and portions of the roof that are beginning to rot. He also noted that two of the building’s seven air conditioning units are a decade past their suggested lifespans.
He added that this all speaks to the trend of not wanting to spend money on building repairs or infrastructure upgrades until it is too late, a trend he hopes can be halted in Hampton Bays. The library has not received any upgrades or renovations since 2001.
“You never have trouble hosting a party when you build a new building,” he said, underscoring the lack of appeal in renovating an older structure. “That party’s not happening after you fix the roof.”
After pitching the need for repairs and upgrades to the nearly three-dozen community members in attendance, library employees and board members, Mr. Canseco had them split up into groups of four or five to discuss what problems they’d like to see addressed. Once all suggestions were made, Sandpebble employees consolidated them into a single list and put them up for a vote. Each person in attendance could vote up to 10 times, and vote multiple times for one issue.
The most desired improvement was additional space for library programs and staff offices, followed by an upgraded HVAC system that would not only replace outdated air conditioning units, but the facility’s entire ventilation system with a newer model, one that would allow for greater climate control.
Additional parking was the third-most desired improvement, although Mr. Canseco said that would be difficult to attain given the limited space available. Other high vote-getters were improved lighting, renovations to the main entrance and bookstore, and installing a drop-off loop in front of the library.
Lower priority upgrades included buying new furniture, shelving and ceiling tiles, as well as a redesign to improve interior traffic and a new book drop-off.
Several people proposed building a new library as an all-encompassing solution, but Mr. Canseco said that would cost roughly $15 million and cost taxpayers an estimated $100 a year more on top of their current tax bills.
After the priorities were set, Mr. Canseco asked participants to vote on how much they’d be willing to spend annually to pay off the proposed bond, which would also cover essential repairs. The spending options proposed were: $4-$7, $8-$11, $12-15 or $16-$19 per year.
Most participants appeared willing to invest in the library and, of those who stayed until the end of the hearing, 14 said they would be willing to pay an additional $16 to $19 in additional taxes to finance the fixes. Nine voted for the $8-$11 range, four voted for $12-$15 and two voted for spending between $4 and $7 annually.
“I voted for the ‘C’ line, which was $11,” Fran Trillo of Hampton Bays said after the meeting. “I’m not opposed to paying more, but it would end up being a lot for some people.”
When asked if she felt the vote accurately represented the Hampton Bays community as a whole, which includes about 13,000 residents, Ms. LaVista said it was “hard to say,” though she felt good about the turnout.
“Generally, the people who actually vote compared to the actual number of people in a community is quite small,” she said, noting that a higher rate would likely draw more interest from the population at large.
Based on the work that participants wanted to see done and the amount they’d be willing to pay, Mr. Canseco said his company will attempt to put together an action plan, a process that he noted would likely take about a month.
Ms. LaVista said she and the library board would meet with Sandpebble to finalize a proposal and then, most likely, hold another public meeting. The library has no contract with Sandpebble and, if a bond is approved by voters, the projects involved will be put out to bid.
Overall, Hampton Bays resident John DeCristofo said he thought Saturday’s meeting went well, adding that he liked the idea of everyone having the chance to offer their input.
“It was a very democratic meeting,” Mr. DeCristofo said. “Everyone had the opportunity to not only speak their mind, but also vote.”