Mastic Beach resident Tijuana Fulford piles her three kids and some others from the neighborhood into her seven-seat SUV about seven times a month to the current Mastics-Moriches-Shirley Community Library, where she says they have a safe place to hang out and take advantage of its programs. But she’d much prefer it if they had something more local.
In fact, her house is in walking distance from the former Mastic Beach village hall that the library purchased earlier in the year and hopes to renovate and expand as part of a $22.7 million bond that’s up for a vote Dec. 10. The bond would also fund a renovation of the current 45,000-square-foot library and another new 7,000-square foot branch behind the Little Red Schoolhouse in Moriches. The library would use $4 million in reserve funds for the project.
Fulford, 36, who runs the Riverhead-based Butterfly Effect Project, which aims to empower girls, said the expansion would “create opportunities for the public to engage with the library.”
When some question the need for a new library, given Google’s ability to get access to content, Fulford responds, “The library isn’t just Googling. It’s about learning about Googling” and other services. She praised the library for helping her 12-year-old daughter, who attends Paca Middle School, for making the high honor roll.
It’s comments like these that make library director Kerri Rosalia “cautiously optimistic” that the bond vote will pass.
“Libraries are changing. Just as a whole, we are fighting that battle. We are providing services that the community requests,” she said.
While borrowing physical books is still popular, people want to attend programs such as on how to get a job, or take advantage of literacy and language services, museum passes, or even cooking classes. “There’s a sense of community. Sometimes people come to unplug, and sometimes to plug in.”
“The feedback has been good,” Rosalia added. “We’ve saturated the community with information,” including through its website.
If approved, the bond would raise taxes on the average home assessed at $1,995 by about $86 per year, library officials said. With 63 percent of the homes in the community assessed at that value, “that’s $7 or less [a month] for most residents. We think it’s a bargain,” Rosalia said.
A $34.8 million proposal in 2006 and a $33.5 million plan for a new library in 2018 were rejected by voters over concerns about the tax burden and the level of communication.
Library officials are hoping the scaled-back proposal, its outreach efforts with community and civic leaders, as well as a plan to help save the Little Red Schoolhouse, rather than razing it, as the building’s owner, the William Floyd School District, had planned to, will win over the needed support.
The plan now is to renovate and restore the schoolhouse, with $1 million coming from the library through operational savings and the rest from government grants and civic fundraising.
However, the schoolhouse is not part of the bond vote.
Ray Keenan, president of the Manor Park Civic Association, who had opposed the previous proposal, voiced his support of the new measure at a recent library board meeting. “This project is so much cheaper,” he said. “I’m very much in favor of the annexes, especially in Moriches, because it can take a long time to get to the library during traffic.”
“I just want to recognize the efforts of the board,” Keenan told library officials after they worked with local civic leaders on the Little Red Schoolhouse plan. “You guys have really stepped up to the plate, in my opinion.”
Still, some people at recent meetings had voiced concerns about any additional tax burden, possible inefficiencies in the plan, and the necessity for new branches.
A majority of the Mastics-Shirley Chamber of Commerce’s board voted to support the library’s proposal, chamber president Beth Wahl said.
Frank Fugarino, president of the Pattersquash Creek Civic Association, who frequently uses the library, supports the bond measure, as do many of the group’s members individually. Fugarino said the bond would allow for extra educational programs, needed improvements in the library’s infrastructure and foot traffic to Neighborhood Road.
“It’s a win-win-win.”
Mastics-Moriches-Shirley Community Library
Dec. 10, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
407 William Floyd Pkwy., Shirley