OAKLAND, N.J. — More than 19 years and six directors in the making, the borough’s original library building has finally re-opened.
The two-story structure – boarded up the last 15 years without heat – has received a complete face-lift, including restoration of a New Deal-era mural by Russian-born artist Giorgi Manuilov of Dutch businessmen buying 5,000 acres of Oakland-area property from the Minsi Indians.
In addition to housing the library’s adult collection, the Municipal Plaza building includes a renovated stage area flanked by a conference room and “Beam Room,” where weddings were traditionally performed. Bookshelves on rollers can be pushed back to make way for seating in front of the stage, with additional seating possible on the room’s overhanging balcony.
“I’m excited for all the residents of Oakland,” said Mayor Linda Schwager, who originally ran for mayor in 2011 on a platform of completing the beleaguered project. “We have a library to be proud of under the outstanding leadership of our library director (Peter Havel).”
Built to mirror the architecture of the nearby Ponds Reformed Church, the building -which was the original borough hall – was finished in 1936. In 1962, the library was moved from the borough firehouse to the main floor of the building. The basement was renovated to house a children’s department in 1971.
The borough’s renovation plans began in 1998, when residents voted to approve spending $2.6 million to expand the library. A contract was awarded in 2001 and construction began in July 2002, with a projected completion date of November 2003.
But disputes arose among the borough, architect and contractor about the quality and progress of the work. The borough finally declared the contractor in default in November 2005.
The children’s wing opened in March 2006, but the three groups continued legal actions against each other until 2012.
New architects were awarded a contract in 2014 to draw designs to complete the project, and bids were received in November 2016.
The building finally opened, quietly, last week, with a reception for an exhibit of Dan Yandrasevich historic models photographed by Nancy De Vries and a performance by Brian Richardson as W.E.B. Du Bois.
“We’re calling it a soft opening,” said Havel. “I didn’t want a series of grand openings. We’ll do that when the whole project is finished.”
That may be a while coming.
Work is expected to begin shortly on renovating the middle entrance section, which currently houses administrative offices and media collections.
“We’re going to create a teen room, and make way for more interactive activities such as tutoring,” Havel said. “We’re going to install cameras so we can put our staff where they can interact better with our patrons.”
But for now, residents are celebrating the return of their much-anticipated library.
“It was certainly worth the wait,” said Diane Marcaluso, head of the borough Friends of the Library volunteer agency.
“It’s a joy to be there,” she added. “It’s not only met but exceeded our expectations.”
Information from: The Record (Woodland Park, N.J.), http://www.northjersey.com