Following a 7-6 committee vote on Wednesday night, the Lower Merion Board of Commissioners voted to move forward with a plan to simultaneously renovate Gladwyne and Ardmore libraries. The final vote was 7-5, as Commissioner Scott Zelov was absent and Cheryl Gelber left before the vote, which took place around midnight.
With several township libraries in need of repairs or upgrades, the commissioners looked in June at a plan to renovate the Gladwyne Library and Ardmore Library branches simultaneously. The renovations, which include elevators at each site, would be done after the Bala Library is completed in 2013.
Since the projects are similar, Director of Libraries Christine Steckel advocated for a joint bid, telling the commissioners that with such similar projects, they might get more competitive quotes.
Steckel estimated the Ardmore renovation—which would include opening up the loft area to visitors and refurbishing the children's room—would cost $1.2 million. Gladwyne's project is estimated to cost $1.5 million.
A major goal of the upgrades to both libraries is to make them more accessible to those who are disabled or have limited mobility.
While several members of the public gave their support for the renovations, including Ardmore Library's Board of Trustees president Ann Kirschner and Lower Merion Library System Board of Directors President Michael Golden, a number of residents expressed concerns with the plan.
Ardmore and Penn Wynne
Ardmore resident Hugh Gordon advocated that the board table the issue. "It’s clear neither of these projects are ready to go forward," he said. "The Ardmore plan is not particularly urgent and it’s a very bad plan."
Gordon also advocated that Penn Wynne Library renovations be moved to the top of the priority list, telling the board that ArdWood and North Ardmore Civic Associations both voted in favor of putting Penn Wynne Library ahead of Ardmore Library on the renovations schedule.
However, Commissioner Brian McGuire said, there are "significant legal and zoning issues" to confront in Penn Wynne, making it unlikely that Penn Wynne library renovations could proceed in a timely manner.
Approximately 67 Gladwyne residents, according to a letter given to the commissioners, urged the commissioners to delay a vote on the Gladwyne Library project.
One reason for concern expressed in the letter is Steckel's comment that the township "would be likely to protect its investment by a legal agreement the specifics of which have not yet been decided," as the township does not own the library building.
The letter reads in part:
The Gladwyne Library Trustees do not know what this agreement is, and apparently neither does the Township. The terms of this legal agreement offered from the township to project their interests should be known to all before an educated decision can be made.
In an effort to address that concern, commissioners modified the wording of the recommendation.
The approved version of the document was modified to add additional stipulations regarding Gladwyne Library. The additions, as read at the meeting by Commissioner Daniel Bernheim, are indicated in bold:
Recommend to the Board for approval that the Township undertake the proposed Gladwyne Library and Ardmore Library renovation projects simultaneously, upon compliance with HARB recommendations, in conjunction with community and library trustees input, approve preparation of construction documents, secure the necessary agreements for approval of the board between the township and the Gladwyne Library Trust, and procure an independent cost estimate for the joint projects.
A yes vote to the library renovations, Commissioner Liz Rogan said, would not tie the commissioners to the previously proposed and largely disliked glass elevator plans for both spaces.
"The motion is to get money to pay for a new design," Rogan said. "If we don’t approve it, we won’t have money to do the design."
The vote in the Library Committee to recommend the simultaneous renovations to the board for approval:
- For: Rick Churchill, Jane Dellheim, Steve Lindner, George Manos, Paul McElhaney, Brian Maguire, Liz Rogan
- Against: Daniel Bernheim, Jenny Brown, Cheryl Gelber, Brian Gordon, Lewis Gould, Philip Rosenzweig
- Absent: Scott Zelov
The Board of Commissioners voted 7-5 to approve the simultaneous renovations, with Bernheim, Brown, Gordon, Gould and Rosenzweig voting against. Gelber left before the commissioner vote and Zelov was absent.
Before the commissioner vote, Brown said that Zelov had also expressed his desire to address the concerns of the Gladwyne community and likely would have voted against the proposal.
With the possibility of a split 7-7 board in the future, further movement for the library renovations risks being delayed, Brown cautioned.