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Saturday, May 18, 2024

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Site Selected for Sea Isle Branch Library

By Joe Hart

SEA ISLE CITY –– After months of research and discussion, officials and residents here have decided on the bayside municipal parking lot on 48th Street as the site for the city’s new county library branch.
Council members voted unanimously at an Oct.23 meeting to approve the site garnering applause from most of the thirty residents in attendance.
Essentially the choice was between three sites: the current site on JFK Boulevard in the downtown business district, one on the elementary school grounds off Park Avenue and the 48th Street site.
Each area had its own issues, they said.
JFK was considered because it’s been home to the city’s library for decades and keeping it there would have brought people to the downtown business area. The site was eventually disqualified as an option for lack of parking.
The school site was considered for its potential as a shared school and community library facility. Downsides included the extra approvals it would have needed from local and state boards of education and the uncertain future of the tiny school.
Council members and residents have had a difficult time weighing the different sites.
“I’ve been up one direction to another and back again,” Councilman John Divney said. He and his wife toured six libraries in shore communities while trying to decide what type of facility he would like to see for the city and where it should go.
“The Cape May branch was most like ours, an older building in a downtown area with no parking,” he said, admitting he originally wanted the library to stay where it was.
The Avalon and Ocean City facilities were beautiful, he said, but were located too close to other public buildings or businesses. Wildwood Crest and Margate have buildings on or near the beach, and he really liked that aspect of their libraries.
“We would have that atmosphere too and that’s why I would like to recommend 48th Street as the site for our new library,” he said.
Councilman Frank Edwardi said the site’s location would be the practical choice.
“It just makes the most sense,” he said.
Council President Mike McHale agreed saying the site has room for a cultural center and plenty of parking.
“This town is crying for a cultural facility and I think this is the best spot for it,” he said speaking of potential art exhibits, lectures and other cultural events.
He also said it would be nice to be able to read a book or surf the Web on the library’s deck with a water view.
Councilwoman Mary Tighe said the 48th Street setting would be a nice treat for summer visitors from the city that are used to urban library settings.
Although he approved the 48th Street site, Councilman William Kehner, who is on the parking committee, did so with reservations.
He was concerned with loss of summer parking spaces if the library were built on the municipal lot site.
John Fee, who unsuccessfully ran for a seat on council, thanked the governing body for listening to the people of Sea Isle while considering options and making this decision.
“It’s been a refreshing change,” he said from the way decisions were made prior to the change of government in July. “I think your openness has encouraged people to come out to meetings and express their opinions.”
Resident Lou Korber also thanked council for its decision and had a suggestion for what to do with the current library building on JFK Boulevard on the city’s main entranceway.
“I’d like to suggest you consider using the old site as a business site for the future,” he said.
McHale said the site is currently zoned for a public building, but would consider all options.
Dottie Fean, another resident, agreed with Korber, but suggested the site be used as a welcome center for the city.
Despite overwhelming approval from the audience, there were a few detractors to the library plan.
Resident Terry Downey wrote council members a letter outlining reasons they should leave the county library system altogether.
She said if they really crunched the numbers they would see that they would be better off leaving the system and opening a facility of their own.
Gary Egnasko, who served on the committee that dealt with the library question, agreed with Downey that leaving the county system was the right thing to do.
“If you look at it in a purely financial light, the additional $200,000 it would cost taxpayers annually would be a smart move because all the money and services would stay here,” he said. “But I, too, must applaud council for the openness of the process and willingness to accept residents’ opinions.”
Contact Hart at (609) 886-8600 Ext 35 or at: jhart@cmcherald.com

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