Garfield Public Library Director Mary Jo Jennings’ dreams aren’t extravagant.
An update to a 50-year-old bathroom. A front door that keeps the cold wind out. A front desk that’s accessible to children and people in wheelchairs.
The wish list, which has been in place since 2008, may finally get some items checked off. Applications open next month for grants from a long-awaited $125 million earmarked through the New Jersey Library Construction Bond Act, which was approved in November 2017 by voters across the state.
“I am praying for new, updated bathrooms in our basement, because they are from 1967. We need to modernize that,” Jennings said. “Downstairs, desperate need of a new bathroom — handicapped facility down there.”
The application forms for the grants were made public in January. In this cycle, $87.5 million will be available.
Libraries have to submit their applications between March 9 and April 6 to the New Jersey state librarian, Mary Chute, and the president of Thomas Edison University, Merodie Hancock, who are both designated to approve the grants.
It’s an exciting time for libraries that have been waiting for various parties, including Gov. Phil Murphy’s office and other state agencies, to approve guidelines on how to apply.
Jennings said other projects that the Garfield library wants to carry out, if they get grant money, are redoing the front desk to make it compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act and user-friendly for young children, and realigning the front door to cut down on wind and cold.
Projects eligible for grants are construction of a new library building; additions to an existing library; acquisition of land for new library or expansion of an existing one; acquisition of a building to be used as a public library; and rehabilitation or repairs of an existing public library building or a building to be used as a public library.
Gretchen Kaser, director of the Worth-Pinkham Memorial Library in Ho-Ho-Kus, said the $3.8 million the library is seeking would help to build a ground-level addition to the library, which is perched on a hill with a front entrance reached by climbing 21 steps.
“This project is so badly needed because our building is so small, and we really need to improve our accessibility, so we’re excited to get going with it,” Kaser said. The library would also gain a new young adult and children’s area and community meeting space.
Caitlin Hull, director of the Maywood Public Library, said the facility wants to make improvements that are estimated at $2 million.
That includes revamping half the building to transform unused space on the bottom floor into accessible space to hold more programs. An area on the top floor where the young adult and children’s sections are located would be renovated to be more accessible and “easier to navigate.”
“It’s really exciting,” Hull said of the money that’s been freed up.
“People want to use their libraries; they want to support their libraries,” she said. “And the fact that we will be able to go ahead and give the people what they wanted two years ago is very exciting.”
The bond act lays out that a grant will cover up to half of the cost of a project to be financed, with matching funds from private or federal sources to cover the other half.
Although fewer people today may run to their libraries to check out books, many library directors reported growing numbers of visitors for various programs.
New Milford Library Director Terrie McColl said the library will be applying for a grant to upgrade the 1950s-era building to support patrons wanting to use their laptops and other electronic devices, to renovate its reading room and to improve ADA compliance.
“We are designated as a warming center and cooling station in bad weather or if there’s been a hurricane or something, so we need that capability in the building to help our patrons better,” McColl said.
Among other libraries seeking grants will be the Ridgewood Public Library, which envisions environmentally friendly upgrades.