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Ardmore, Gladwyne Library Renovations Approved In Close Vote

With a 7-6 committee vote for approval, a split board could prevent steps moving forward, Commissioner Jenny Brown noted.

Following a 7-6 committee vote on Wednesday night, the Lower Merion Board of Commissioners voted to move forward with a plan to . 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.

Public Opinion

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.

Gladwyne

Approximately 67 Gladwyne residents, , 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.

The Vote

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.

goosefeathers July 19, 2012 at 05:31 PM
The way Library usage is counted in Lower Merion is through people coming and going through the entrance, not card swipes. So for instance if a Library employee smokes 5 cigerattes a day, and goes out for his/her lunchbreak, that would count for 14 entries and exits, which would be counted as 7 visitors. These statistics are extremely flawed.
David O'Connell July 19, 2012 at 08:22 PM
Goosefeathers: You are correct in your assumption or observation that the usage numbers are flawed. About 5 years ago, our group, lmcrb.org, funded a study of the usage at 3 of the Township's Libraries. We posted a person in each library for 40 1 hour periods to count each person coming in. Known Library staff was not counted (easy since you could see them go out over and over again). The time periods were from slow days and busy days, busy hours and slow hours. It became quickly apparent, that the numbers reported by the Libraries could not be accurate. How could we assume this? We took the busiest hour of the day, as reported by the library staff, counted the number of visitors that hour, did the same the next day, and then on the weekend. We then did it again in a different month to allow for a weekly or monthly anomaly. When we took that number of visits during the busiest hour and multiplied it times all the hours open during the year, it still didn't amount to the visits that the libraries reported. I believe that the numbers reported are inflated by 30% to 40%. Does anyone really believe that the Gladwyne library really has 57,000 visits per year? That is at least 190 visitors per day every day of the year that the library is open. Not likely. David O'Connell www.lmcrb.org PO Box 362, Ardomre PA
Tim Rabbit July 19, 2012 at 11:25 PM
Don't know why an expression of opinion should be characterized as a "rant," just because you don't like it. Clearly turnstile numbers can't be taken seriously. Circulation numbers can, and they show an astonishing 20% drop off year-to-date between May 2012 and May 2011. Partly attributable to massive management failure resulting in Bala and Ludington being closed at the same time, but 60,000 fewer items circulated not accounted for by that. What does this presage for when all the libraries are open again? Looks like Guzzardi may be on to something.
goosefeathers July 20, 2012 at 01:08 PM
Thanks for backing up my belief that the LMLS statistics are severely flawed with actual research, Mr. O'Connell. I'm impressed! Gladwyne is my library, and 190 visitors a day is certainly not the case. That being said, I'm definitely not in favor of this renovation at Gladwyne's library. It's a small, little jewel in the center of town. It is not legally necessary with Ludington only minutes away. Not only will the library be closed up to 12 months (the estimate ~ but just look at the Ludington debacle), but it will also take down the two lovely trees to the right of the entrance. The charm of this little historic building will be lost, at great cost (both in financial and good will), for no real reason.
Bob Guzzardi July 20, 2012 at 05:09 PM
The libraries computers have capability of generating a report at no cost of the daily, weekly and monthly card swipe measure of usage. Dave O'Connell is a real asset to fiscal common sense.

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