By Douglas Feiden
The seven steps sloping gently down from a landing on Jefferson Street — toward the rejuvenated John Jermain Memorial Library and its light-filled addition — are still under construction. A few feet away, a pitched embankment on the southeastern corner of the site remains an unfinished mound of moist earth.
But when Catherine Creedon, the library’s director since 2007, views the final-stage construction sequencing that’s now underway here, she sees a vastly different place, one of beauty and enrichment, a destination for adult fulfillment and children’s development that is not yet visible to the naked or untrained eye.
Those granite steps? “A couple of dozen kids and parents will sit there for puppet shows and story time,” she marvels. One of the library’s two entryways, in effect, will double as tiered seating for a mini-amphitheater in warmer weather. As for that inelegant pile of soil nearby? She already sees the “beautiful landscaped garden” into which it will soon be transformed.
And that’s just the outdoor space:
“The entire library is literally shimmering in light,” Ms. Creedon says. “The light in Sag Harbor has this beautiful, miracle water quality — it shimmers — and the glass in the new building captures that quality perfectly…. In the old building, the mortar and bricks, the limestone and copper, also have that lovely reflected quality of light.” Old and new, side by side, seem to embrace in harmony.
It has been a long haul and a tough slog, a mega-project with huge hurdles, a fair share of delays and a daunting price tag that is now approaching the $15 million mark. Moreover, the completion of the multi-year renovation, painstaking restoration and from-the-ground-up expansion is not yet at hand. But the finish line is finally coming into view, and staffers are counting the days to their homecoming at 201 Main Street.
Contractors project they’ll wrap up by late spring, triggering a roughly six-week, set-up period in which books are pulled out of storage, staff are trained, wireless and computers are installed, and final tweaks are made.
In a “perfect world,” the ribbon cutting could come in time for the summer season, on or around the July 4 weekend, Ms. Creedon says. In an “imperfect world,” it could place closer to Bastille Day, July 14, or a bit later.
Of course, some earlier projections have missed their mark in a long, fraught construction cycle, and she’s candidly acknowledged the misses:
In a JJML newsletter last summer, she quoted a favorite fictional detective, Armand Gamache, from the mystery novels of Louise Penny, writing that his elemental mantras — “I was wrong,” for instance, and “I’m sorry” — have become as familiar to her as the Dewey Decimal System.
“To paraphrase Gamache, I was wrong when I thought we would be back in the ‘old’ building by now,” she wrote. “I’m sorry we’re not there yet.”
But all of that appears to be in the past. “We’re doing everything we possibly can to turn up the flame and get things done,” said Nick Gazzolo, who became the new president of the JJML Board of Trustees on January 1. “We know nothing is more important than getting into the new building…and we’re ready to reintroduce the library to the people of the community and give them a return on their investment.”
What they’ll see is the transformation and reinvention of a grand Classical Revival-style structure — its portico supported by four stone-fluted Doric columns — that was commissioned and built by the philanthropist Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage, more typically identified as Mrs. Russell Sage.
It was a gift presented to the people of Sag Harbor in memory of Major John Jermain, her grandfather, and on October 10, 1910, it opened its doors with about 5,000 books. The cost was $10,000 for the land and $70,000 for the building.
Flash forward more than a century and the latest incarnation of that historical treasure is soon to bow — with 54,000 print and media items; free wireless access; 270,000 digital items like downloadable eBooks and audio files available via shared Suffolk County resources, and remote or on-site access to dozens of electronic databases.
It is another gift to the village. But there’s a big difference. When Mrs. Sage donated the library, she wrote a big check. When the community decided to modernize and build anew, it held a referendum.
On June 29, 2009, 83 percent of voters in the Sag Harbor School District approved the resolution to finance the lion’s share of the project with $9.975 million in taxpayer funds.
To date, $14.795 million has been spent, a tab that includes hard construction costs of $11.67 million. But taxpayers aren’t on the hook for a dime beyond what they authorized in the referendum because JJML kept a pledge to the community to come up with all additional money through its own fundraising efforts.
It raised $3.729 million in donations, including $666,472 in grants, and forthcoming gifts based on donor pledges and in-the-pipeline grants will bring another $691,000 into the kitty, JJML says. As of December 15 last year, the library had tallied $14.395 million, with several additional gifts flowing in at year’s end.
Not all the donations are blockbusters. “We’ve also gotten $5 bills with little post-it notes attached saying, ‘Thanks for everything you’ve done,’” Ms. Creedon says.
The library has a $500,000 fundraising goal this year to complete the project and serve as financial cushion, if needed.
What does the $15 million pay for? The 14,351 square-foot library complex now comprises a state-of-the-art, 7,267-square-foot addition. That more than doubles the size of the original building, which weighs in at a meticulously reconstructed 7,084 square feet.
Before the renovation, there were no dedicated program spaces, no elevator and no climate control in the historic archive; when the new digs are occupied, there will be three potential indoor program spaces and at least one outdoor space, one elevator and a humidity- and temperature-controlled archive.
Creature comforts matter, too, and the number of bathrooms in the new complex will increase to four from three. Water leaks, loose bricks and other infrastructure woes should be a thing of the past.
Peak-hour parking demand will increase: In 2010, the year before the library vacated its ancestral home and relocated to temporary quarters at West Water Street, there was demand for 30 spaces, a parking analysis that year found. Demand is projected to surge to 48 spaces.
After patiently waiting — and investing time, energy and money — the community can be expected to patronize library services in impressive numbers, said Michael Garabedian, who was president of JJML in 2014 and 2015 and served six years as trustee.
“It’s going to be a showpiece, a central hub, a place that is very near and dear to people’s hearts,” he said. “…It’s the ‘Field of Dreams’ syndrome. When you build and restore something as magnificent as this, they will come.”
One centerpiece will be the programming. “We could even do our own version of ‘Fridays at Five,’” said Mr. Garabedian, referring to the popular author event at the Hampton Library in Bridgehampton. “But we’d ramp it up a notch.”
Mr. Gazzolo adds that with the new program spaces, there could theoretically be three events taking place in three different rooms at the same time. “And we’d still have quiet spaces for people to read and think and learn and work and use the computers,” he says.
Public events, readings perhaps, might take place on the splendid stone base rising over Main Street on which the library rests, now named the Gail Carpenter Slevin Plaza to honor the longtime steward of the “One for the Books!” fundraising drive, who died in 2014.
“Gail would love that,” Ms. Creedon said.
But first, the construction punch list must be completed. And it shouldn’t take too long now. “Glass is in, but it will need to be cleaned,” Ms. Creedon said. “Sheetrock is up, but not yet spackled and painted. Scaffolding is down, and it’s not coming back.”
JJML by the Numbers: The Physical Plant – Before and After the Expansion
Size of addition – 7,267 square feet
Size of original building – 7,084 square feet
Total size of new library complex – 14,351 square feet
Peak-hour parking demand at library, 2010 – 30 spaces
Peak-hour parking demand at new library, projected – 48 spaces
Program space at library, pre-renovation – Zero dedicated spaces
Program space at new building – 3 potential indoor spaces, 1 outdoor space
Elevators in original building – Zero
Elevators in new complex – 1
Bathrooms in library, pre-renovation – 3
Bathrooms in new complex – 4
Historic archive, pre-renovation – no climate control
Historic archive in new home – humidity- and temperature- controlled
Size of original library parcel – 0.325 acres
Size of parcel at new complex – unchanged, 0.325 acres
Number of floors in original library – 3, including basement
Number of floors in new addition – 3, including basement
It Takes More Than a Village to Build a Library
Total project costs to restore and expand John Jermain Memorial Library:
$14.795 million to date (includes hard construction costs of $11.67 million, plus insurance, architectural fees, other professional fees, 2010 environmental impact statement, Village permitting and general conditions, which include site costs for equipment rental, garbage pickup and other project operating costs).
Principal funding source for JJML project:
Voter-approved bank financing, $9.975 million in taxpayer funds (financing obtained in 2010, after 83% of voters in Sag Harbor Union Free School District approved referendum on 6/29/09)
All additional monies for project were raised via JJML’s fundraising efforts, including:
Donations, $3.729 million, including $666,472 in foundation and government grants (received since Jan., 2006, kickoff of JJML’s Capital Campaign and the first of its annual “One for the Books!” events)
Forthcoming gifts, based on pledges made by donors over time, $391,000
Forthcoming grants, $300,000 (includes $250,000 from a New York State Strategic Investment Program Grant and $50,000 from a NYS Library Construction Grant)
Total raised and tabulated as of Dec. 15, 2015: $14.395 million
Not yet tabulated: Multiple gifts made in the final two weeks of JJML’s 2015-2016 Annual Appeal Campaign and recent gifts of stock
Additional 2016 fundraising goal for completion of project: $500,000
SOURCE: Data maintained by John Jermain Memorial Library and JJML Director Catherine Creedon