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Southold votes Saturday on expanding public library

If voters in the Southold public library district approve a proposed $7.1 million expansion on Saturday, they will finance a near doubling of the size of the existing building.

And, as a bonus, they will be able to walk into the front of the building for the first time in nearly 20 years.

Originally a bank, the library - which stands on a small rise at 53705 Main Road near town hall in the hamlet of Southold - was expanded in 1991 from a cramped 2,180 square feet to nearly 9,000 square feet.

But as a result, the only public entrance had to be moved to the rear side of the building. "That's bothered me since the first day I started working here [in 1998]," librarian Caroline MacArthur said. "There's no entrance on Main Road."

The new entrance is not the reason for the proposed 7,700- square-foot expansion, but it is a welcome benefit, she said.

The library board decided that the extra space was needed for expansion of services, including for children and teens, and to create a 120-seat community meeting room that could be used even when the library is closed.

"Our circulation desk was designed right before computers came into use. It's very inefficient," MacArthur said. "Our young adults have three computers and children have two. We need more."

Designs of the proposed building are on the library website, and show a three-story glass entrance connecting the existing building to a two-story expansion. There will be another 48 parking spaces behind the building.

"The addition is set when you approach it you will see the 1891 George Skidmore building, then an attractive courtyard," said MacArthur. "It complements the original building. It does not try to compete or overtake it."

While the proposed addition - which will take 12 to 18 months to complete - will cost $7.1 million, voters are being asked to approve only $6 million for construction. The library has received two large bequests from former residents, and is doing independent fundraising to cover some of the $7.1 million.

Additionally, officials hope to raise $1.25 million from private donors over the next three years to further reduce the construction debt.

The referendum authorizes the library board to negotiate for a mortgage or go directly to the bond market.

Not counting the anticipated offsets, the expansion would add $18 per $1,000 of assessed value to homeowners tax bills for the next 20 years, or $115 to $135 a year for an average house assessed at $6,800.

The Southold Public Library serves the hamlets of Southold and Peconic, the same boundary as the Southold school district. Anyone 18 or older who is registered to vote in a general election can vote on the referendum. Voting will be at the library from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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