A Modern Library for Millville

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Courtenay Reece said, by this time next year, she hopes that shovels will be in the ground on Buck Street across from the Maurice River marking construction that will transform the Millville Public Library into a state-of-the-art space she believes the public deserves.

There have not been any significant updates to the Millville Library since the 1960s. It is not compatible with the American Disabilities Act. Its grid was not meant to accommodate the computers and electronic items that are commonplace throughout society – much less most modern libraries today.

Even simple things like closing time is a challenge for Millville library staff because it lacks an intercom system, leaving them to inform patrons individually that the facility is getting ready to shut down.

Reece said that some four years after the Carley Foundation gave the Millville library a $1 million grant, it may be close to raising enough private money and winning other public funds to make all of those updates and expansions a reality.

According to the library's capital campaign plan, the proposed $5 million addition would add 10,500 square feet to the library's current 9,500-square-foot space it takes up off Buck Street, doubling it in size.

There will be a dedicated teen area, a classroom specifically used for those pursuing their high school equivalency certificates, and a community meeting room for events. An elevator would be added to make the facility ADA compliant, along with a public-address system and security cameras.

"The library is considered a safe space," Reece said. "People come in the door and we're paying attention of who's coming and who's going. If you're meeting someone for the very first time, you want to meet them in an open public forum, so to speak."

Reece and library officials have been working with Manders Merighi Portadin Farrell Architects of Vineland on the renovated library's renderings, which are now posted on their website. But getting to the magic financial number to make those shovels turn next fall will still take some work on behalf of private citizens and public officials.

The library has raised some $500,000 to go with the Carley Foundation grant. Reece said while the library is not required to match the $1 million grant, she believes doing so would go a long way to give the project the momentum it needs.

In September, the library approached Millville City Council requesting another $1.5 million for the project, which was met with some support, but nothing as yet official. 

The library is considered a safe space.

Reece said one of the big keys to the project could be a possible $1.7 million grant from the State through the New Jersey Library Construction Bond Act, approved by voters last November. The act will make $125 million available in the future for public library construction.

According to the NJ State Library website, through a competitive bidding process, libraries will be able to tap into the fund if they are constructing a new building or adding to an existing facility, trying to acquire land for such expansion, purchasing a building, renovating an existing building, repairing major systems to keep the library functioning, or adding ramps, elevators and other things that would make them ADA accessible.

"Our new and improved facilities will enrich the fabric of life in New Jersey and be a boon to New Jersey's growing economy," Mary Chute, the New Jersey State Librarian, said last November when the act was passed. "This program is a tremendous opportunity to provide the residents of our state with the best facilities and public library services."

Reece said that the act appeared to be perfectly suited for the needs of the Millville Library.        

"We meet four of the seven criteria that they are looking for," said Reece, expressing why she is confident that Millville Library will be a strong contender for the grant. "Our library is so old, over 50 years old, that there wasn't the infrastructure for computers or electronics.

"One of the No. 1 things that we would get is a really good security camera system and an intercom system so we can communicate effectively throughout the library with our patrons," she added.

She said that the intercom system would not only help during announcements and closings but dramatically improve how the library contacts patrons in the event of an emergency and evacuation.

Reece said that she has attended every meeting around the region where the new bond program has been discussed in hopes of putting the Millville library in the best position to apply for the state funds.

"I can't wait to apply," she said. "A lot of libraries have renovated in the last 10 years and they would not be eligible. We haven't done anything since the 1960s. I am thinking that [the State] will start soliciting in the late winter, early spring 2019.

"Then, they will open up the grant process. Confirmation of our grant, and I'm being very optimistic, may come in early June, so this time next year we'll have shovels in the ground," she continued.

Reece admitted being concerned about a common theme that has often been expressed by many South Jersey officials — that state funds often find their way to the northern part of the state, bypassing places like Millville and surrounding areas.

She said that is why she is working hard on continued fundraising to make sure the library is put in the best possible light once they apply.

"We are still soliciting funds as much as we can because we want as large of a pocket of money to draw from," Reece said. "The truth of the matter is so much of the funding goes to Trenton and north and so little trickles down here. We want to make sure we are as well positioned as possible to make sure some of that money comes down to our area."

Reece is still a relative newcomer to the area. She attended Thomas Edison State College and earned her bachelor's degree and then a master's in library science at Drexel University. Before becoming the head librarian in Millville, the Georgia native served in the same position at the Bridgeton Public Library for nearly four years.

Despite the briefness of her tenure so far, Reece can permanently make her mark in Millville by ushering in the expansion.

(Rendering courtesy of MillvillePublicLibrary.org)


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