Construction has begun at a former Blue Point convent that is being converted into the new home of the Bayport-Blue Point Public Library.
Library officials, community leaders and other dignitaries broke ground Friday morning on the $16.85 million project, which had been approved by library district residents in a December 2018 referendum. Residents voted 1,758-835 to authorize buying the 8.27-acre convent property on Middle Road for $3.65 million and refurbishing it for an additional $13.2 million.
Construction is expected to take 12 to 15 months, and the new library is set to open by fall 2021, library officials said. The 28,573-square-foot library will replace the current 13,325-square-foot facility about a mile away on Blue Point Avenue.
“We’re under construction. Now the construction crews are in the building," library board president Ronald F. Devine Jr., of Bayport, said in an interview after the ceremony. “There’s a lot of work going on. We’re moving forward.”
Two groundbreaking ceremonies were held Friday to ensure that those attending each gathering could observe social distancing guidelines.
The ceremonies marked a significant milestone in a yearslong effort to replace the 63-year-old library, which was expanded around 1990. Officials said the current building is too small, requires expensive repairs and does not comply with federal access laws for the disabled.
The coronavirus pandemic set back construction by four to six weeks, library director Mike Firestone said. Officials had been prepared to award construction contracts in March just as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo ordered nonessential businesses, including most construction projects, to shut down, Firestone said.
“Part of it was not knowing when construction was going to be back up,” he said.
Contracts were awarded in time to start planning construction once that industry was allowed to resume last month, Firestone said.
Library officials in 2018 agreed to buy the St. Ursula Center convent from the Ursuline Sisters of Tildonk, an order of Catholic nuns whose membership was declining as sisters aged and died. Proceeds from the sale were used to find new homes for the remaining nuns.
The convent will be converted into library reading rooms, community spaces, special areas for children and adolescents, and meeting rooms. A new entrance will be added facing Middle Road.
Officials plan to donate wetlands on the property to the county to be preserved as open space.
Construction crews will install a septic system, paid for with a $250,000 grant from Suffolk County, to replace cesspools currently at the site, Devine said. Officials have said there will be 104 parking spaces, up from 62 at the current facility.
“It’s going to be a world-class regional library,” Devine said. “I think it’s going to leave a very positive influence on the community. People will want to use it.”