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Library rethinks closing for renovations

The Mastics-Moriches-Shirley Community Library. (July 15, 2011)

The Mastics-Moriches-Shirley Community Library. (July 15, 2011) Credit: John Dunn

After a raucous meeting Monday night packed with irate residents, the Mastics-Moriches-Shirley Community Library's board of trustees said it might back off plans to close the library this fall for a 16-month renovation and lay off most of the library's 200 employees.

"We heard people loud and clear, and we're going to take a step back to re-evaluate and have a few options," board president Joseph Maiorana said in an interview Tuesday. He said there will be future public meetings and the board will put the library's future to public vote if necessary.

"We can certainly find out what the public wants us to do. If that involves a vote, we'll have a vote," he said. "But at the end of the day, it's our duty to make sure we have a safe and functional building."

More than 250 people crowded into the library's auditorium for a question-and-answer session scheduled for the first hour of the board's monthly meeting.

Many demanded to know how the library board came to its decision. Library officials have said the building's boilers, roof, electrical system and carpet need to be overhauled.

The board planned to pay for the estimated $5-million renovation from the library's $9-million operating budget, according to Maiorana. A temporary library would be set up in a yet-to-be-determined location and programs moved off-site.

It would be about twice as expensive to renovate the library while keeping its doors open, according to board members.

A tax increase of nearly 13 percent in the local William Floyd school district approved in May was a major factor in the board's decision to shut the building rather than seek public financing for costlier options, said library director Kerri Rosalia.

"The board was very sensitive that it wouldn't be right to ask you for any more money," Rosalia told the at-times confrontational audience.

Some residents were upset they were left out of the decision process. "Nobody came to us and said, 'What do you folks want to do?' " said Orlando Jimenez of Mastic.

"You should have asked us for the money to fix the building," Shirley resident Joe Martino shouted at the board as the audience yelled in approval.

But when another board member asked how many people would like to raise taxes to pay for library renovations, only a small portion of the audience raised its hands.

Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley), who lives near the library and was in the audience lent her voice to the fray. "We're seeing how many people are opposed to what you're doing," she told the board.

State Sen. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), also in attendance, fondly recalled his teen years working in the library as a computer page and asked for a follow-up meeting.

Library patron Susan McKeon-Steinman said the library was a sanctuary for local kids in an area lacking in youth services.

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