A $20.8 million bond to renovate and expand Great Neck’s Main Library went down in resounding defeat in a special election Tuesday, Oct 25. With people voting in volumes comparable to a Presidential election, the referendum was defeated by a vote of 2924 “no” to 1,286 “yes” votes – a 70-30 margin.
Voters turned out in huge numbers all day long streaming in until the polls closed at 10 pm, 4210 in all. The turnout, much greater than anticipated, was so great at the north end polling place at Baker Elementary School that the each of the two voting machines reached their capacity of 995 votes, and the election workers had to shift to paper ballots.
Voters were not in a mood to take on the tax increase, estimated at $80 for a home assessed at $1 million.
They also rejected the need to expand the building by 8,645 square feet, in an age of e-books. Many cited the branches – and the new expanded location for Station Branch – to argue that no more space was needed at Main.
Most insisted that the Main building only needed to be renovated, and did not know or did not care that the difference between the cost of the most basic renovation of the 40-year old building to repair its aging infrastructure, projected at $13.5 million, amounted to a $30 difference in tax.
Some even expressed overall distrust for the Library Board – consistent with a widespread distrust of government but also stemming from controversies going back 15 years, despite the fact the board members have changed several times over this period. The recent publicity involving a family member of the Library President only added to the overall lack of confidence.
Many who voted “no” though were clearly uninformed or misinformed about the project, the result of an overwhelming campaign by opponents.
One woman waiting on line to vote, said the project would cost $40 million – not the amount, not to exceed $20.8 million, which was the language of the referendum. “This is what I was told,” she said.
It is expected that the Library Board will schedule a special meeting – probably during the first week of November – to figure out where to go from here.
“We will schedule special meeting of the board to discuss our options,” Library director Jane Marino commented “Clearly this went down to a resounding defeat so we have to figure out what the community wants.”
Doing nothing is not an option.
The aging building – built in 1970 and not improved since then – is literally falling apart. All the operating systems – the air conditioning, heating, lighting, electric, elevator, and the very facade and retaining walls – need to be replaced.
“A renovation will also increase taxes, and will require the building be shut down,” said Library Director Jane Marino. “There is asbestos in the building, a facade that is actually falling down, a wall that is crumbling, an air conditioning system that is outdated, outmoded. Once we replace the cooling tower and do the renovation, every single pipe of the air conditioning system will have to be replaced.”
Among the options the Board might consider is to hold a second referendum after better explaining the options between what a basic renovation would require.
“Another option is to take a serious look at renovation, to talk to the architect and involve the arch – my biggest concern is that it removes every bit of flexibility.”
Still another option is to do the gut renovation as planned without the 8,645 addition, and seeing if this would give the Library the flexibility of space that it needs. This would allow the mezzanine, which presently rests on the book stacks on the main floor, to be rebuilt to have more functionality, or possibly even building a true second floor, which would require the building to go higher by about five feet, according to early discussions.
Meanwhile, it is likely that despite the voters’ angst at spending more money and expanding space, the Library board is likely to move forward with a plan to expand Parkville Branch Library.
Even though it seemed as if opposition to the Main Building, in the north end of the Great Neck Peninsula, was most vehemently opposed by those in the south end, who are served by Parkville, Station and Lakeville branches, the percentage of “no” votes in the south end, where 1500 votes were tallied, 70.9%, was comparable to the north end. At the Great Neck South High School polling place, the vote was 1069 “no” and 431 “yes.”
In the North end, the 2710 votes broke down to 1,855 “no” and 855 “yes.”, or 68.5% against.
See also Great Neck votes Oct. 25 on referendum to bring Library into 21st century
Karen Rubin, Long Island Populist Examiner
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