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 Priscilla Gardner Main Library in October 2014, the Priscilla Gardner 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 nearly 50 -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.
The renovation of the Priscilla Gardner 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 our 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.
The work on the renovation project has been divided into three phases. We are currently completing Phase II and entering Phase III of the project.
Phase I, which was completed in 2016, included major restoration work in the Lending Department and the New Jersey Room. In the Lending Department, on the second floor, the exquisite decorative plaster detailing on the walls and ceilings was carefully restored. Decorative elements and woodwork were also restored in the third-floor New Jersey Room, which also received new wood flooring, as well as completely refurbished archives with compact movable shelving to better care for and manage rare and one-of-a-kind documents. Both spaces were newly furnished, and electrical power distribution and lighting were upgraded.
Additionally, a building extension was constructed to house a new elevator, barrier-free access was added to the Main Library entrance, and the life-safety systems were updated, with a new basement sprinkler system, new fire alarm system, and upgraded standpipe. In addition, the first-floor restrooms were completely reconstructed, and new public bathrooms were added on the fourth floor.
In Phase II we continued the asbestos abatement and we have nearly completed replacing the aluminum windows with historically-correct, energy-efficient wood.
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.
Phase III of the project is slated to include several major upgrades, such as full renovation of the Reference Department and Federal Documents Department, the renovation of the grand monumental marble staircase and public corridors, the historic Tiffany glass window, and refurbished third-floor offices and restrooms.
The building’s heating and air conditioning systems will be overhauled to improve performance and reduce energy consumption, new motorized clerestory windows will be installed on the fourth floor. Central air conditioning in the building will be expanded to fourth floor spaces, including Biblioteca Criolla. The roofing system will be fully replaced, and the ornamental copper work on the roof will be restored. In addition, the south façade of the north wing will be restored, and the courtyard window will be replaced.
COMPLETED PROJECT: REFERENCE DEPARTMENT RENOVATION
As the first major project of the third and final phase of the Priscilla Gardner Main Library’s ongoing renovations, the Reference Department underwent a complete upgrade. The intricate plasterwork and ceiling details were carefully restored and repainted in beautiful blues, yellows and earthy reds. All plaster surfaces were restored to their original condition, and all original woodwork was restored or replaced where necessary.
The department was completely refurnished with new shelving, new light fixtures were installed, and an electrical upgrade brings power supply directly to the restored original oak reading tables. All power distribution is concealed in the floors and wall structures.
The reopening of the department in April 2019 ends a period of closure that began in September 2016. Work on the Reference Department was delayed in 2018 when asbestos was unexpectedly found in the floor of the room; after the additional asbestos abatement work was completed, the restoration of the interiors moved forward.
Reference Department Photos:
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. Biblioteca Criolla, on the fourth floor of the building, will close temporarily beginning Wednesday, December 5, 2018, to accommodate construction; we anticipate that Biblioteca Criolla will reopen in the coming weeks. The Federal Documents department, also located on the fourth floor of the Main Library, will remain closed during this time.
This project is partially funded by a grant from the Hudson County Open Space Trust.
We Need Your Help!
A major component of the final phase of the renovation project will be to build 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.
The Library anticipates receiving funds from the 2017 Library Construction Bond Act, and the City has committed to additional funding for the remaining projects. In order to help bring the project to completion, the Library must continue to raise funds. If you would like to help us in this effort, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to the Jersey City Free Public Library Foundation today: http://www.jclibrary.org/donate
As we enter the final and most complex phase of the renovations, we will keep the public and the Main Library’s neighbors updated about our progress, 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.