Cranford Hears Budget Request For $800K Library Expansion

By KATIE MOEN
For The Westfield Leader

CRANFORD — The Cranford Township Committee met last week to hear from department heads and establish a baseline for this year’s upcoming financial discussions at its annual capital budget hearing, held Thursday in the town hall. Big ticket items on this year’s list of requests include roadwork and infrastructure repair, new communication and safety gear and a major addition to the Children’s Room at the Cranford Public Library.

The library project, which would seek to double the size of the facility’s 2,500-square-foot children’s area, would cost the municipality an additional $827,440 if it were to be started this year, Library Director Michael Maziekien said. Though the price tag is admittedly high compared to other departmental asks [the Cranford Police Department, for example, has issued a request for $55,000 to cover the cost of new e-ticket systems and mobile data terminals for the department’s fleet], Mr. Maziekien said the project, which would make the space more accessible and easier to navigate, is long overdue.

“[The Children’s Room] is heavily overcrowded, items are high up toward the ceiling on the shelves. We have books overflowing into the aisles, we have ad hoc selections set up in closets…it has been like this for a significant amount of time,” Mr. Maziekien said, noting that the space as it currently exists poses some major challenges in terms of safety and accessibility.

“One of the issues that we run into is that there are no good angle where you can see the room wall to wall, and in a children’s room, that’s much more of a liability than it would be in other spaces.” Mr. Maziekien continued, “Our collections are stacked five or six feet high, even seven in some cases, and that makes it very difficult for us to be able to provide a safe space. Access is also an issue. We are ADA compliant, but that usually happens because we’re cramming books in wherever we can fit them to keep the aisles clear. For young children that are learning to read and explore and develop new interests, it does not create a welcoming space.”

In 2019 (the last year that the library was able to operate without the added challenges of the pandemic), Mr. Maziekien said the facility saw 159,000 in-person visitors. It also hosted 329 programs and saw its wireless connections accessed 32,000 times.

“The vast majority of our circulation, about 94 percent, is still physical at this time. We have well-trod carpets over there,” Mr. Maziekien said.

The township awarded $960,000 to the project when it was first presented in 2018 with the understanding that the library would work to secure the rest of its funding through state grants. “Unfortunately at this time, the state funding has dried up,” Mr. Maziekien said, “but the library’s needs still remain.”

The township’s initial allocation is still earmarked for the project, Cranford’s Director of Finance Lavona Patterson said, noting that the library has also been able to save an additional $461,386 that can be used for capital improvement projects like the children’s room expansion. In addition, Mr. Maziekien said, the Friends of the Library and other local fundraising groups have agreed to help raise donations to help cover the costs of furniture, displays and storage that can be added into the space once the renovations are complete.

“Unfortunately at this time, the state funding has dried up,” Maziekien said, “but the library’s needs still remain.”

Also up for consideration this year is a $7,220,636 request from the township’s engineering department, which would seek to upgrade and repair some of Cranford’s more notable infrastructure challenges.

Collier’s Engineer Jacqueline Dirmann said that while the township has been able to make significant road repairs over the course of the past several years, there is still a fair amount of work to be done.

Some of the roads that have been identified as those in need of attention include an 800 foot stretch of Cranford Avenue between Albany and Cherrywood (which scored 54 points out of 100 in a recent engineering study that took overall road conditions, potholes and water damage into consideration); a 2,000 foot stretch of Hillside Avenue between Collins Street and Crane Parkway (ranked 58); and a 1,300 foot section of Glenwood Road between Venetia Avenue and Herning Avenue (also ranked 58). Also on the list for consideration are sections of Pawnee Road, Sailer Street, Franklin Avenue, North Lehigh, Myrtle Street, Brookdale Road and Sylvester Street (all of which ranked between 60 and 70 on the scale).

Other streets, including parts of Cranford Avenue, Summit Road, Beech Street and Nomahegan Road were also identified as potential candidates for new curbing and drainage solutions.

The road improvement docket is expected to be partially funded through state grants ($424,000 has already been awarded through the NJDOT, Ms. Dirmann said, noting that the department is anticipating an additional $112,000 to come through within the next several weeks). Other streets will be improved thanks to an existing arrangement between the township and Elizabethtown Gas.

This year’s hearing also included requests from the Cranford Fire Department ($846,526 for water rescue equipment, mobile data terminals, vehicle upgrades and a new roof for the station); The Downtown Management Corporation ($110,000 for a streetscape study and new holiday decorations); and the department of public works ($257,482 for some new vehicles and better snow mitigation equipment) for a total capital request of $8,140,793.59

The capital budget hearing was held in person but was not attended by any members of the public. Access to the municipal building is still restricted due to Covid-19 regulations.

The Cranford Township Committee will hold its next meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, February 22.

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