Jersey City’s Main Library, just north 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 have nearly completed replacing the aluminum windows with historically-correct, energy-efficient wood.
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 and restoration of roof structures are 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.
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, previously aluminum, have been replaced with historically-correct wood that will substantially reduce energy consumption in the building. The glazing of the new windows blocks 90% of UV rays, which significantly improves temperature control inside the building.
All the new windows were fabricated and installed through Summer 2018. The scaffolding around the building was removed, although a section of scaffolding facing Montgomery Street was re-erected for the roof restoration work.
The remaining work to be done on the window project includes: the wood trim on the exterior of the first-floor windows; installation of steel framing for support of window air-conditioning units; and repairs to plaster and wood casings on the interior of some windows. Upon completion of the construction work, the windows will be fitted with adjustable mini-blinds.
CURRENT PROJECT: REFERENCE DEPARTMENT RENOVATION
The restoration of the Reference Department is in progress; approximately 40% of the work is complete. 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. Walls and ceilings are being repainted.
The rooms are being rewired, new light fixtures and power distribution systems are being installed, including adding power and data connections in the Reading Room. All of the reading tables will be fitted with electrical outlets for patron use, and new furniture has been ordered and is currently being fabricated. The original oak reading tables themselves will be restored. All power distribution will be concealed in the floors and wall structures.
CURRENT PROJECT: 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.
To enable the roof restoration, partial scaffolding was re-erected on the Montgomery Street side of the building. 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 is partially funded by a grant from the Hudson County Open Space Trust.
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.