Montgomery residents recently got a peek at the future township municipal complex and new library planned for the former ConvaTec site at the intersection of Route 206 and Orchard Road, which has a completion date of
2020 or 2021.
Kurt Vierheilig, partner and director of design at DMR Architects of Bergen County, consultants for the project, presented the proposal for a 52,500 square-foot complex complete with township offices, police headquarters, public event space and the new library at the township committee’s August 16 meeting.
Many of the 35 people who sat in the audience asked questions about the site plan, layout, functions and services of what will become Montgomery’s
new Somerset County Library System (SCLS) branch.
Some audience members also questioned whether the Mary Jacobs Memorial Library would remain open in Rocky Hill or be replaced with the
new Montgomery library facility, following the style of Hillsborough’s all-encompassing Peter J. Biondi building on South Branch Road.
Vierheilig spoke extensively about the library design, starting with the high ceiling and atrium at its entrance from the south side of the building, facing out to Orchard Road.
“Entering into the library will be a very spacious and open-air feel. As you enter in on the left, there will be an arched space for the children’s room and programs including story times. The adult collection will be on the right and in front. Along the back and edges are small, quiet tutor spaces or tutor rooms and small meeting rooms.
As you come into the main lobby of the library, at its right end will be a cafe, fireplace and a lounge area — with comfortable seating and group areas similar to a Starbucks (but with a coffee pot and vending machine),” he said.
The library planning included flexible space, which Vierheilig coined “useable and technology-rich areas to service the needs in the community, and what the library has determined is of interest to patrons / residents.”
In between the entranceway and lounge-style seating areas, Vierheilig says there will be technology and resource stations as well as a new information desk, “a bit different than the larger circulation desks you see in other libraries.”
“The main idea is that staff who assist the community, residents and patrons are located throughout the entire library. The kiosk at the library’s front
can provide for instructions or patron assistance but it also provides for visual connections and the security aspect, having lines of sight from the entrance to the secondary entrances and library or shared public spaces’ passageways,” he told township committee and residents.
Outside, there will be a new self-service book pickup feature with the new Montgomery library, as SCLS cardholders can order books through the online
system and retrieve them at a designated a 24-hour window/shelf on the building’s exterior.
Vierheilig later described an interior digital preservation lab — a room for patrons to scan materials, document historical artifacts or photos and items to add to the Somerset County historical archives — as well as a makerspace that can host programming.
Of the proposed complex, municipal offices (from the planning and zoning departments to township administrator and clerk) would be allocated 13,000 square feet on the second floor.
Police would occupy the 13,000 square feet directly under the municipal offices, on the first floor.
There also would be meeting rooms and spaces for various boards and committees, including Open Space and Shade Tree Committees meetings, which currently take place at the municipal building’s “kitchen meeting room.”
Bathrooms on the ground level would be shared between the municipality
function, the police, and the library (patrons).
The new police department headquarters would include locker rooms for officers and a four-prison cell holding cell area (compliant to NJ Department of Corrections’ standards) and two Salle Ports, areas for police vehicles to securely park and transport prisoners or suspects into the station, which Vierheilig said are considered a safety feature for all parties.
The architect’s PowerPoint slides and graphics didn’t detail all the library’s interior visuals; only aerial floor plans. Vierheilig explained the library’s central “Computer Resource and Technology Commons area” in between the cafe on the building’s east side and quiet study rooms all the way inside the library, would include computer stations for public use.
Several residents in attendance questioned the allocation of technology space or a “computer area” inside the proposed new library. They learned there would be between six and ten computer desktop stations for free, public use.
Somerset County Library Administrator Brian K. Auger stood with Vierheilig and addressed the crowd, explaining that SCLS-NJ surveys indicated that many patrons like to bring in their laptops, iPads and other devices and take advantage of free WiFi, while rentals of Chromebooks to carry around the libraries’ spaces is also a popular option.
To some residents Auger’s comment was considered a downgrade from the number of computer stations they are accustomed to in the Mary Jacobs Memorial Library and other SCLS branches, or in the Princeton Public Library. Minus the few desktops specifically for library catalog searches only (without internet or other applications) today the Mary Jacobs Memorial Library has a total of 18 desktop units available for public use, including the four in its children’s room. For adults or teens, Mary Jacobs has 14 desktop stations: two rows of four downstairs, another row in the upstairs, plus two desktops in the second floor’s enclosed quiet study room.
Residents’ Reactions to Design, Style and Size For the exterior elements in particular, Vierheilig said the DMR team focused on Montgomery Township’s “rich history as an agricultural community and preservation of its historic structures,” most notably Dutch and colonial barns and farmsteads.
Committeewoman Sadaf Jaffer advocated for the inclusion of the region’s Native American history dating to the Lenni Lenape tribe that spanned New Jersey, as she asked about potential design elements.
Vierheilig was not aware of ways to incorporate cultural elements into the building’s structure.
Jessie Havens of Belle Mead said the rendering presented on August 16 showed just “an unfortunate smorgasbord of a complex with no particular style.”
Peter Morgan, an architect and a resident of Rocky Hill, said he didn’t see how having the library attached to the police station and municipal complex was a good concept. He asked Vierheilig if a plan for a freestanding library could be considered.
Vierheilig answered a primary goal was “efficiency of systems” including shared utilities and mechanical spaces with the other functions. Morgan also said the new building should present a “farm feel” and rural character preserved with the new structure instead of some of the boxy “high school” feel that patrons at the Hillsborough Library may observe.
Another point raised was the apparent neglect of the declining condition of Montgomery’s Public Works facility, and Mayor Madrid said it wasn’t a matter of choosing not to include that function with the new municipal complex.
“We are doing this in a staged sort of process, and the immediate need is to accommodate the police and municipal offices. There has been preliminary discussion on what we might be able to provide for Public Works, but we just aren’t there yet,” Madrid said.
Resident Brett Borowski said the floor plan and design presented for the new Montgomery library can work well — with the caveat that it becomes an addition to having Mary Jacobs Library in town, not a replacement for it.
The new library and its layout presented on August 16 did not appear to be “enough” to justify the change to current library services and the costs involved with potential higher interest and debt service. “I don’t know if six study rooms are enough. If you truly wanted to convince me the proposed library is a good solution not only for 2018 but for 2028 and 2038, because that is how long the township will be paying for this. I do not see in looking at the visuals, that it adds a whole lot of useful space to what we have in Mary Jacobs,” he said.
Another idea Borowski commented on was transforming Mary Jacobs into a dedicated children’s library and to focus on adult spaces, lounges and study rooms with the new library.
Township committee, Auger, and Vierheilig briefly discussed the current 20,000-square-feet of the Mary Jacobs library, including questions on its interior layout, to the proposed floor plan of 16,000 square feet of the new library concept.
Committeeman Ed Trzaska said as designed, the public spaces and meeting rooms house the library programming. “It is not just the numbers and the total square feet, it is about the efficiency in using the space. A lot of times you are taking an existing building and retrofitting a library into it; with this it’s being built from a whiteboard concept — how to be as good and efficient as possible.
"We did not just want to build something big to be big, we thought of efficiency with the needs of 23,000 township residents,” Trzaska said.
Later Traska explained for residents the future use or existence of the Mary Jacobs Library will be up to the Borough of Rocky Hill, the Mary Jacobs Memorial Library Foundation (which owns the 64 Washington Street building) and the SCLSNJ administration and board.
County Library Administrator Auger said comparing the new design to Mary Jacobs Librar, with additions to its 1974 main structure and “some inefficient uses of space and stairwells” is like “comparing apples to oranges.”
He later noted that unlike most libraries, a storage area for the new Orchard Road location would be on the mezzanine level above the staff areas, as he called it “a brilliant use of space” although it is still an “early iteration of the library floor plan.”
When a resident asked if future public presentations will be made once the interior elements and the design schematics evolve, Mayor Christine Madrid said: “I just don’t think we are there yet. We’ll take residents’ comments into consideration and there will be more opportunities as the process moves forward. We’re still in the preliminary stages here so we wanted to show everybody what the general plan isand get some feedback.” ■