After 10 days’ notice, the Catherine Dickinson Hoffman (CDH) branch of the Warren County Library System closed for renovation on October 7th, leaving many residents feeling lost.
Seniors who depended on the library for internet use, students who walked from the North Warren Regional High School to relax with friends, homeschoolers, virtual workers and parents found themselves trying to figure out where to hold meetings, tutoring sessions, playdates and more.
“The CDH branch is our second busiest branch,” acknowledged Warren County Library Director Maureen Baker Wilkinson. “Second only to the southwest branch. We realize that a lot of people rely on the CDH location, but renovations were long overdue.”
Some significant issues to be addressed by the overhaul are the HVAC system and realigning the roof, which currently must be shoveled by hand after snowstorms. In addition, accessibility issues at the entrance will be resolved.
“The ramp (at the current entrance) serves its purpose, but it’s not really technically up to (the Americans with Disabilities Act) code,” said Wilkinson.
“We help people on a daily basis struggling with entry,” said branch manager Kelly Durkin. “The doors are around 40 inches wide, are not automatic and people have to get through two.”
The new entry will be completely flush to the ground, with power doors for people with mobility issues.
Originally a private library housed in the Blairstown Mill on Main Street, the CDH moved to 4 Lambert Road (a commercial office space) in 1995 after joining the county system. At that time, the CDH Trustee Association added two additions to create the library residents know today.
The new design by DIGroupArchitecture LLC, known for their community and civic architectural work, will feature a large open area and other renovations that cannot be done in a “piecemeal” fashion.
The plans will straighten out two walls of the building, by replacing them and expanding the library over the current entrance driveway. The exit driveway will become a two-lane entry and exit.
“We did a community study a few years ago and one of the things we identified through that outreach was the need for more programming at the library and more meeting space,” said Wilkinson.
The expansion will allow for a new conference room and a maker space, suited for arts and crafts and other messy activities.
“The current meeting room will be renovated, and we will also have study rooms that can accommodate four to six people and will be accessible anytime the library is open,” Wilkinson said. Reservations will still be required for the other meeting rooms.
The children’s area (whose collection had spread into the adult section) will be enlarged and a separate section will be added specifically for teenagers — long overdue considering the amount of foot traffic the library gets from the middle and high school.
“They need their own space,” said Durkin. “And we’re happy to provide it.”
“The community depends on the CDH for more than just book borrowing,” said Wilkinson. “And we want to make sure we fill all the needs we can.”
Looking toward the future of libraries, the new space is purposefully designed with changing technology needs in mind.
“Just like books on tape and VHS cassettes, we know the time will come for the DVD collection to disappear (as people turn to streaming services), and we’re getting prepared for that,” said Wilkinson. “We need to be able to redesign the space as the library evolves.”
Computer banks will still be available for public use after the renovation, though Durkin pointed out that these days most people bring their own devices and use the library’s Wi-Fi system. The plan includes high-speed internet through Planet Networks and additional comfortable seating.
Regarding the 10-day notice given to residents, Wilkinson said, “We gave the time as we found out about it ourselves. We’ve been talking about this renovation for years, and we just didn’t know when the exact date for the renovations would start.”
The library was unofficially quoted 14 months for the renovation to be complete, but up to two years might be a more realistic expectation, according to Wilkinson.
“It’s an extensive project,” she said.
Warren County was able to garner the foyer of Blairstown’s municipal building for basic lobby service but has not committed to supply the CDH branch and its users with a larger space during renovations. While residents have been using the lobby service as a drop off and pick up point, the space is small and cannot allow for printer, fax and scanning use, or a “new releases” book cart.
“They (the county) worked out the municipal building space for us, and we’re thankful for it. We appreciate the challenge of working out that space,” said Wilkinson. “But we are looking at other space options, and we hope we can move into something more suitable that can offer more services.”
The struggle to find a suitable space has been impacted by Blairstown’s real estate market. Rentals that the library had looked at a year ago for potential interim use have either been rented out or are over budget.
In the meantime, library users can make the 15-to-30-mile journey to one of the other branches in Belvidere, Independence or Stewartsville or pick up items on hold and use the book drop at the Blairstown municipal building located at 106 Route 94, Blairstown at the following times:
● Monday 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. and 4 p.m.to 7 p.m.
● Tuesday through Thursday 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
● Saturday 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
There is no lobby service on Fridays or Sundays.
Stay up to date on new book releases, library happenings at other branches and news about an interim space for the CDH, by visiting www.warrenlib.org and signing up for their newsletter.
Cybele Tamulonis, Contributing Writer
Cybele is a writer and editor with more than 16 years in the publishing industry. An avid reader, you can usually find her with the latest new book release from the local library. She currently resides on a farm in Hardwick with her husband and four children. In her spare time, she writes historical fiction specific to New Jersey.