Jersey City’s Main Library, just south of Van Vorst Park in the heart of the city’s historic Downtown, is one of our community’s most iconic and most treasured buildings. The cornerstone was laid in 1899, the doors opened in 1901, and ever since, the Main Library has been a center of culture and learning for the residents of Jersey City.
When we began major renovations on the Main Library in October 2014, the Main Library was 115 years old; as Library Director Priscilla Gardner noted, its restoration was “a long time coming” and much needed. The goal of the Main Library renovations is to ensure that this incredible building will serve the community in glorious condition for at least another century. For Director Gardner, this project is the capstone of a 48-year career at the Jersey City Free Public Library.
The Library is a public space with a primary mission of providing services to the community, and we recognize the need to complete the renovation work with minimal disruptions to our patrons’ use of Library services. At the same time, we must be cognizant of patron and staff safety, as well as construction costs, when we schedule work.
We are currently completing Phase II and entering Phase III of the project. In Phase II we continued the asbestos abatement and we are in the process of replacing the aluminum windows with historically-correct, energy-efficient wood. Some departments will be closing temporarily on a rotating basis to accommodate the window replacements. We will give our patrons as much advance notice as possible about any department closings.
Phase III of the project is slated to include several major upgrades, such as: full renovation of the Reference Department and Federal Documents Department; renovation of the interior staircase and public corridors; a new structure to the rear of the building that will house a state-of-the-art auditorium, as well as new climate-controlled bookstacks and rare document storage; a complete overhaul of the building’s heating and air conditioning systems to improve performance and reduce energy consumption; restoration of the fourth-floor clerestory windows, and a new roofing system; and refurbished third-floor restrooms. The Reference Department renovation is now underway.
Phase I, which was completed in 2016, included the restoration of the exquisite architectural details in the Lending Department, a new elevator, barrier-free access to the Main Library entrance and renovated first-floor and fourth-floor restrooms, and a new basement sprinkler system.
We are focusing all of our efforts on a December 2018 completion. We will keep the public and the Main Library’s neighbors updated about the progress of the renovations, and we will make sure our patrons are informed about any upcoming changes to the hours of the Main Library building and individual departments. In the event of department or building closures, the Library will extend services and hours as much as possible at the Library’s nine Regional and Neighborhood Branches, as well as the Bookmobile. Keep your eye on this page, our Facebook and Twitter pages, as well as posted signs in the Library, for information as it becomes available.
The renovation of the Main Library is a large-scale, top to bottom restoration of a cherished historic building. We are working under the assumption that we will encounter some unexpected developments, and we are prepared to adjust the below timeline as needed. We commit to keeping the public informed and updated about the status of the renovation and any planned changes to Library services or access.
CURRENT PROJECT: WINDOW RESTORATION
The monumental street-facing windows, currently aluminum, are being replaced with historically-correct wood that will substantially reduce energy consumption in the building.
Some delays were encountered at the start of this project when PSE&G power lines were found to be too close to the scaffolding that the workers would be using for the window installation; the power lines were moved and the replacement process is underway. Replacement of basement windows has been completed.
All the new windows have been fabricated and delivered to the building. The second- and third-floor windows have been installed and the contractor is proceeding with installation of new windows on the first floor. The basement windows were replaced last year. We anticipate that the scaffolding around the building will soon be mostly removed; a section of scaffolding facing Montgomery Street will remain in place for the roof restoration work.
To ensure the safety of patrons and staff, as well as the cost-effectiveness of the project, some departments will be closed on a rotating basis. The current estimate for completion of the window restoration is Summer 2018.
CURRENT PROJECT: REFERENCE DEPARTMENT RENOVATION
The restoration of the Reference Department is in progress. Following asbestos abatement, the restoration of the interiors is moving forward. All plaster surfaces are being restored to their original condition, and all original woodwork is being restored and replaced where necessary. The rooms are being rewired, new light fixtures are being installed, and power distribution will be expanded throughout the Reading Room. All of the reading tables will be fitted with electrical outlets for patron use, and new furniture has been ordered. The original oak reading tables themselves will be restored.
The contract for this project has been awarded; construction is underway.
RESTORATION OF ROOF STRUCTURES
The penthouse structures, ornamental copper cresting, and shingles on the Library’s roof will be restored, and the roofing systems and storm drainage will be replaced. The restoration of the roof is necessary for the long-term structural integrity of the building, to provide additional ventilation to the fourth floor by bringing the clerestory windows back into use, and to preserve the historic character of the roof’s unique architectural details. When asbestos abatement was completed and more spaces became accessible for review and assessment, additional roof work was found to be necessary, including masonry repair and replacement of some drain pipes.
This project is partially funded by a grant from the Hudson County Open Space Trust. The final design and construction documents for this project are nearly complete. Patrons should expect temporary closures of fourth floor areas, including Biblioteca Criolla, during the period of the roof work; the Library will announce any planned closures as far in advance as possible.
This project has gone to bid and we anticipate awarding a contract in 2018.
INTERIOR RENOVATION, BOOKSTACK RECONSTRUCTION, NEW AUDITORIUM, AND NEW HEATING/AIR-CONDITIONING SYSTEMS
The remaining interior spaces of the building will be renovated, including the grand monumental staircase, the Federal Documents Department, and third floor offices and restrooms. In addition, the south façade of the north wing will be restored, and the courtyard window will be replaced.
A major component of the final phase of the renovation project will be the construction of a new bookstack building in the rear courtyard, which will include a new auditorium space. The Main Library and the new bookstack building will be provided with a new heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system.
Work on these remaining projects will begin when work on other projects progresses to a point that makes this work possible. Patrons should expect some partial and full building closures to accommodate this work; the Library will announce any planned closures as far in advance as possible.