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Hamburg Public Library construction ‘moving right along’

ENVISIONING THE FUTURE — New York State Assembleyman Sean Ryan got a sneak peek at the construction of the library’s redesign, during a tour on May 2.
THE GANG’S ALL HERE — The tour group included, from left: Librarian Tom Carloni, library board of directors member Anita Metzger, Edson, Ryan and board of directors member Marianne Chiumento.

HAMBURG — With the advent of e-books and the Internet, many thought paper books were on their way out, and local libraries with them. But a peek at the Hamburg Public Library construction project proved the opposite is true: Libraries are alive and well, and the town of Hamburg’s local branch will soon unveil a redesign that will bring even more residents in to read, use computer terminals and relax at, what Library Director Jack Edson said hopes will become, a central meeting place for residents and visitors alike.

Edson said that the library has counters on each door, which measure foot traffic in and out of the branch on a daily basis. An average of 500 people visit the branch each day and up to 225,000 per year.

“We have a very healthy level of foot traffic,” the director said. “People from all walks of life come in. It’s a good time to be in the library business, since we’re not in transition anymore.”

A lot has changed since the library was first built in 1966. Edson started in the business in 1986, when the library stocked books and records. A few years later, VHS movies arrived, then CDs and computer terminals.

“Today, the library is more lively,” he said. “We’ve added programs and camps to keep the library from being a dull place. We don’t know what we’ll be doing in 20 years, but we’re flexible. [Our model] can be changed. Nothing is cast in stone.”

COMING TO LIFE — Library Director Jack Edson said it’s exciting to see plans for the Hamburg Public Library finally coming to fruition.

On May 2, Edson met with New York State Assemblyman Sean Ryan and two members of the board of directors to tour the construction site, explain its progress and look at how the library will function in the community, going forward.

Currently, the construction project is in Phase II. Phase I saw the installation of a new heating and cooling system, as well as site preparation for the next phase. In total, the library has received $739,483 from the New York State Library Construction grants, although it is still waiting for recommended funds and additional funds, which are typically announced in the spring.

The library has to match the NYSLC grants by 50 percent. Those grants are awarded based on the merit of the project, according to Ryan, and the match level is determined in accordance with the poverty level in the community.

In 2013, the library received $290,084. The projected NYSLC grant for 2014 is $423,149, plus $26,250 that came from other communities who were unable to match their allotments.

HARD AT WORK — An official groundbreaking will be held in June, but the construction site is well underway, already.

“We never would have even thought of [this project] if we didn’t have those grants,” Edson said, adding that local government has also been “very supportive” of the project.

Additions will include a new rotunda area, a large, central community meeting room, universal access entrances, new bathrooms and a facility redesign that will come in at an additional 6,000 square feet. Previously, the library was about 10,000 square feet, so the addition will add 60 percent more usable space, Edson noted.

“Accessibility was one of the main proponents of the project,” Edson explained. “It really speaks to the heart and soul of the project. We want to be open to everybody, whether that’s someone using a wheelchair, or a mother with a stroller, or someone who has bad knees and can’t climb the stairs.”

Ryan noted that, when the library was first constructed, the Americans with Disabilities Act did not exist, so the library’s reconstruction posed a “great opportunity to catch up to universal standards.”

The rotunda that will be constructed at the entrance will be “not just a way to get in, but part of the fabric of the building,” Edson noted. “We’re going to jump to this big, gorgeous space.”

According to a study done by the Pew Research Center, people use libraries for a variety of needs and wants, according to their circumstances, Edson explained.

“People will come in for the computers, for entertainment, for programs,” he said. “We want them to visit a space where they feel comfortable, a real community meeting place.”

Statewide, library visitation has increased this year, Ryan revealed.

“We see it at the downtown [Central Branch] all the time,” he explained. “In the ‘90s, people said libraries were dead. But the numbers are higher than even a decade ago. What we’ve got now is a new, multimedia library that has really found its way in the digital age.”

Ryan added that funding for libraries is something he “really fought for” in the 2014-15 New York State Budget, not only as a place to check out media, but a “part of the fabric of the community.”

The new library will be “transformative,” according to the director. “The meeting room and rotunda will allow us to hold 2-300 people at a time, so we can open [the library] up to huge programs. We’re the kind of place that, whatever we offer, we’re going to get an audience,” he added, citing the successful Lego club and recent appearances by local authors and speakers.

In keeping with that forward-thinking attitude, Edson said that he and his team have an eye on newcomers to the village, as well as residents who have lived in the area for their entire lives.

“Newcomers to the community are going to have a different point of view,” he said. “The village is a walkable community, so we’re tapping into how our users use it. We want to use the library to keep the village vibrant and complement what has been done on Main Street in the past 10 years. This new building is intrinsic to the value of the village and its natural charm.”

The project is moving right along, with a groundbreaking scheduled for June 12 and an official opening in December 2014 or January 2015. The library will remain open throughout construction, to provide residents with both media materials and a central meeting space.

“We wanted to provide the library being open for as much time as we could and keep the materials here,” Edson said. “If we close, it kills our business. That’s not at the heart of what we do.”

Looking around the construction site, Edson said it was exciting to see it coming to fruition.

“There’s a lot we talked about as much as two years ago, and sometimes we just got lost in the details,” the director said. “It’s great seeing it all come to life.”

The Hamburg Public Library has a Facebook page at www.facebook.com/pages/Hamburg-Public-Library/ and a website dedicated to the construction project, at www.hplthinkingbig.com, featuring plans for the building, photos and more details on the project.

The library is located at 102 Buffalo St. in Hamburg and can be reached by calling 649-4415.



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