Government South Orange

South Orange Is Exploring Moving Municipal Offices to Library Building

South Orange Village leaders are talking seriously with leaders of the South Orange Public Library about moving municipal offices into the library building — but the town is years away from relocating offices due to the renovation schedule for the Connett building.

On the Village end, Trustee Karen Hilton — who is new to the Board of Trustees but has a long history with the library — is spearheading the effort along with Trustee Mark Rosner to move Township offices from 76 South Orange Avenue to the library.

Currently, the Township is paying about $180,000 per year to house its employees at 76 South Orange Avenue, Village Administrator Barry Lewis reported at the September 11 Board of Trustees meeting.

Previous municipal offices were at the iconic Village Hall on the east corner of South Orange Avenue and Scotland Road.  However, several years ago, offices were moved to 76 South Orange Avenue while the building underwent asbestos remediation and other renovations. Ultimately town leaders decided that the sale of the building would be more cost effective, as the historic building is in need of millions of dollars more in renovations. The town expects to see a payment of $1.2 million once the sale of Village Hall to Landmark Hospitality closes this fall. Landmark, which will be repurposing the building for a restaurant and beer garden, is obligated to renovate the building to NJ Historic Preservation Office standards.

Renovations to the Connett building, which is adjacent to the main library, could free up space in the main library building for the offices, said Hilton.

“Village offices would have to go into the main library building — as the Connett building is deeded to the Village for Library use only,” Hilton reported via email to Village Green.

“We are all excited to be working on it,” wrote Hilton, who noted that she and Hildy Karp, Library Board President, and Tonia Moore, Library Friends President, have been working on the library improvements for many years.

Hilton said that the project could help save on municipal rent, provide more and better meeting space and free up space at the South Orange Performing Arts Center where the Village has been holding public meetings for the past three years.

“All good things,” wrote Hilton.

“The Library has been hard at work planning for a building renovations for many years; our group meeting spaces and children’s library space are just two areas that are sorely in need of upgrading. Combining municipal office space into this plan is something both the Library Board and the Village Trustees are currently exploring.  It is an exciting opportunity.”

At the September 11 Board of Trustees meeting, Village President Sheena Collum asked Hilton and Rosner if they would be requesting that the town allocate funds toward the analysis or architectural plans.

Rosner replied, “I think we should give you an initial report on space needs [first].” Rosner then said that the Village Administrator Barry Lewis had completed such a report. “We should have a meeting with library board first with Mr. Lewis,” said Rosner. He also noted that no offices could be moved until the renovations on the Connett building were completed; he said that was a “big item… a 3- or 5-year project plan.”

In the nearer term, Rosner and Hilton said that they would host a presentation to the full Board of Trustees with the library board.

Lewis reported that the Connett building roof was completed with the help of Essex County and that the Township was “seeking funds for the next phase” and that representatives from the NJ Historic Preservation Office has recently toured the building.

Hilton also directed the Board and residents to a “question on the November ballot statewide authorizing the state to borrow money on behalf of local municipalities for library construction.”

“There will be a robust application process,” said Hilton, “because it’s only $125 million statewide…. We need to be a little bit ready to apply for that grant.”

Hilton also directed residents and Trustees to a  Village Project Updates page on southorange.org. Below is the current update on the Connett building:

Connett Memorial Library – 59 Scotland Road

What is this building and what is it used for?

This building is the original library, built in 1896, extended in 1930, and added to the Montrose Park Historic District National Register as a Key Building in 1997.  When the library required a larger space to meet community needs, the Village purchased additional land and built the current library building which opened in 1968.  The Connett building is still dedicated to library purposes and, since the 1980’s, has been used in part by Electronic Information and Education Service [EIES] of NJ with the mission to “…provide in an efficient manner, immediate, direct and convenient access to the printed word, to those individuals whose ability to read is severely impaired by a visual disability.”

What’s happening here now?

The Connett Memorial Library building is in the process of a historic roof restoration as an essential first step in protecting, rehabilitating, and, once again, extending library space to meet community needs and interests.

This project has been undertaken by the Village of South Orange and supported by funding from the Essex County Recreation & Open Space Trust Fund 2014 Local Aid Program.

What happens next?

The Library Board has developed a vision for the future that recreates spaces with flexibility and sustainability so as to serve vital community needs for generations to come.  The planning process has included a town-wide survey and community meetings which identified a desire for a community meeting room, individual and small group rooms for meeting and study, space designed for more effective teen use of the library, and a greatly expanded Children’s Room.

The Library Board, in conjunction with the Village, secured a grant which allowed a thorough assessment of both library buildings and the development of a master plan. The centerpiece of the architects’ plan is the unique opportunity to bring both library buildings together with a link that becomes a new and vibrant space itself- a place of comings and goings, of meetings and greetings, of access to all library spaces and services, of creativity and community.

What’s the back story of this building?

In November 1864, William Beebe, a merchant, invited some friends to his South Orange home to discuss the creation of a local library. The idea was well-received and so the South Orange Library Association began. In 1895, after moving locations several times, the Library Board looked to obtain a larger and more permanent space. Eugene Connett offered his own land at Scotland Rd and Taylor Pl for a library provided that $7,500 could be raised to construct the building.  The money was raised and the South Orange Free Library opened to the public in 1896. In the 1920’s, the Library Board recognized the need to extend the library due to increasing use and growing collections. The addition at the back of the building, opened in 1930, doubled the size of library and included the first Children’s Room.

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