To some, brick-and-mortar libraries may be anachronisms from the 20th century. But to many in Woodland Park — parents, children, seniors, new immigrants — the Alfred H. Baumann Free Public Library is a godsend.
“We are not so skeptical in Woodland Park,” said Mayor Keith Kazmark.
The library’s after-school programs are a lifesaver for parents, a place where kids get the extra help they need.
“Our librarians know all their school assignments,” Library Director Linda Hoffman said.
“We’ve commingled the library and school resources,” said Christine Tiseo, Woodland Park’s Board of Education president.
The library is also a key resource as an ESL provider and helps people returning to the workforce gain computer knowledge.
“Over the last 20 years we have become the community center,” Hoffman said.
“Our issue is space,” she added. “It is so limited.”
Good news came in January when Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration announced a second round of grants for libraries that will give about $37 million to 36 libraries, stemming from the Library Construction Bond Act voters approved in 2017.
The act authorizes $125 million in state bonds for technology updates, building improvements and other library projects across the state.
The first round of funding, which allocated $87.5 million, was announced in January 2020. Although initially unsuccessful, Woodland Park reapplied last June.
In this second round, Woodland Park was among the largest grant winners, getting almost $2.9 million, or roughly half of the $5.7 million it hopes to spend on a new library.
The plan is to almost double the size, from 7,740 square feet to more than 13,700. There will be community rooms, tutoring areas, innovation areas, 3D printing and a quiet area in which to work and maybe enjoy a cup of coffee.
“Libraries are the foundation of our communities, and investing in them is just as critical as investing in our schools, in our cities and towns, and in our families,” Murphy said.
Kazmark said the news that Woodland Park had received the grant jump-started plans to move the project forward.
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In addition to the grant money, over the last 15 years the library has squirreled away roughly $1 million unspent tax dollars in a capital project fund. The Friends of the Library have pledged an additional $100,000, and the borough has about $150,000 in community block grants to fund ADA upgrades in the new building.
Still, the vision is about $1.5 million short in funding. The library has several months to seek out private capital.
“Now that we have the grant, we can seriously fundraise,” Kazmark said. “It is hard to get someone to pay to put their name on a room when you don’t have a start date.”
Plans are to go to bid in July and break ground in September. Hoffman said the work should last about 18 months, and talks are underway to find a temporary home for a stripped-down version of the library.
The New Jersey Library Construction Bond Act, which was approved in November 2017 by voters across the state, earmarked $125 million to fund critical improvements to public libraries. Applicants for funding must identify a 50% match for their proposed projects.
Other grant recipients
Here are the libraries in our area that were awarded grants in the second round of funding under the Library Construction Bond Act:
- Maywood Public Library, $700,088
- Maurice M. Pine Public Library, Fair Lawn, $500,000
- Emerson Public Library, $155,400
- Dixon Homestead Library, Dumont $98,725
- North Arlington Public Library, $64,320
- Clifton Memorial Library, $189,150
- Nutley Free Public Library, $284,115
- Belleville Public Library, $150,000
Matt Fagan is a local reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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