New $10M Vision Unveiled for Mount Pleasant Libraries

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Henry Myerberg of HMA2 Architects presented proposed changes to the main library in Pleasantville and the branch library in Valhalla last week Residents Mount Pleasant town and Pleasantville village officials along with library board members attended the presentation last week

Full natural light, wide open spaces, a dynamic children’s room, an outdoor amphitheater, and meeting rooms are part of a new design proposed for the Mount Pleasant Libraries — the main library and the branch library in Valhalla.

The plan was unveiled to the community, local officials and Library Board members on Oct. 18 at Mount Pleasant Town Hall.

The goal is to bring both facilities into the 21st century by embracing a contemporary vision of libraries as community hubs for civic activity for all ages.

The estimated price tag to renovate both libraries is just over $10 million; however, the library has already received grants and endowments of about $5.5 million. Redesigning the branch library would cost just under $1 million.

Footprints for both libraries would remain the same. The main library in Pleasantville, built in 1965, is about 22,000 square feet. The branch library is a 2,800-square-foot space within the Mount Pleasant Community Center. It opened in 1992.

Over the last 18 years a series of main library capital improvement projects included replacing outdated HVAC equipment, carpeting, roofing, lighting and bathrooms. In 2018, new LED lighting and a new ceiling grid were installed. One week after the project went out to bid, the Library Board received an environmental report confirming widespread asbestos behind the walls.

“It was a total shock,” Library Director John Fearon said last week. “The lighting and ceiling project went from a budget of about 550, $600,000 to $2.5 million because of the asbestos, which put it out of the library’s reach.”

Library construction was halted and a new plan became essential, Fearon said. The Library Board, with the town and village boards, created an Intermunicipal Agreement (IMA) following the discovery of asbestos to deal with that challenge.

Under the IMA, the day-to-day maintenance became the responsibility of each library to pay for projects out of their own budgets. Capital projects are presented as recommendations from the Library Board to both municipalities.

Presenting visual renderings of the proposed work last week was architect Henry Myerberg of HMA2 Architects, a Manhattan-based firm. Myerberg, a Mount Pleasant resident, has designed and remodeled 30 libraries.

“This project is very special because it is in my home town and a library I’ve used,” he said.

Myerberg explained that the two buildings are major real estate assets that are irreplaceable.

“What we are going to harvest out of them is nothing compared to what it would cost to replace them,” Myerberg said.

Proposed changes within the main library include rearranging the stacks to create more space and make other library areas more visible. The main entry would be relocated at the parking lot. The children’s area would have acoustic and secure separation from public areas and a dedicated bathroom.

A reshaped mezzanine would become an informal seating area and meeting rooms would be built around the interior periphery of the building.

Proposals to redesign the branch library include a new space for everyday use, two small enclosed meeting rooms for staff and public use, and a new entry with greater visibility of library spaces.

Both locations would get an outdoor terrace, a pergola and a self-serve café.

The outdoor space could be used for civic functions, parties and perhaps weddings.

Fearon explained that the presence of asbestos in the main library has prevented the installation of data cables in the walls, as well as painting or mounting shelves since removal is cost-prohibitive.

“The library is going to die if we don’t fix the asbestos problem,” Fearon said. “The building will become an eyesore and gradually it will become impossible to function.”

However, cost is a concern. Mount Pleasant Councilwoman Laurie Rogers Smalley said she admired the plan but had some uneasiness.

“I hate to be a Debbie Downer here, but when you look at a project like this and of this magnitude, we have to look at the use by all residents within the town and we also have to be very cognizant of the finances,” Smalley said. “What do you need? What do you not have to have?”

Others saw the expenditure, which would amount to about $5 million above the available grants and endowments, as reasonable.

“If we were anywhere else, with current real estate costs, we’re probably looking at a $25 million project,” said Village Trustee David Vinjamuri, who designs libraries around the United States.

“Could you take $5 million off this project? The answer is yes,” Vinjamuri continued. “What will feel to residents of Mount Pleasant and villagers from Pleasantville like an entirely new library from the inside for an investment between the town and the village of $5 million, it’s a screaming bargain.”

Councilwoman Danielle Zaino asked about cutting the amphitheater and the pergola.

“Are those really needs or can they be shelved and done at a later date? We have a town of 42,000 residents and a lot of stuff still has to get done.”

Zaino also noted that there didn’t seem to be a lot of foot traffic at the branch library, which could enable officials to reduce that project’s scope.

Last year, there were 32,255 visitors to the main library in the village and 8,362 visited the branch library, according to the library’s 2021 annual report. Fearon said the number of library cards in the system showed 66 percent were from the town and 34 percent were from the village.

“I learned how to read English in that library,” said Village Trustee Paul Alvarez. “After school the library is where I had a tutor who taught me to read. We can both share the burden and both the village and the town can come together and get everyone interested.”

Mount Pleasant Supervisor Carl Fulgenzi said he agreed the project was an important investment for the community.

“But over the years I’ve heard that we made an improvement in the Recreation Department and people say ‘I never use it, why are you spending my tax dollars?’ These are the questions we have to answer,” Fulgenzi said.

Effective communication to residents will be essential, he said.

“The library is for everyone, it’s not just the village library, it’s not just the town’s library,” Fulgenzi said.

Questions were raised during the presentation, including when construction would begin, which library should be done first and finding a temporary facility for the main library during construction. The next step would be sharing the plan’s details with the community.

Pleasantville Mayor Peter Scherer said the town and village must determine areas of agreement.

“We’re clearly at the point where collectively we need to put heads together and decide what we can and will do and what’s a stretch, so we’re not selling to the public some solution when we don’t have reasonable confidence we can deliver it,” Scherer said.

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