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St. James wants what other hamlets have: its own library branch

Three possible locations for a St. James library

Three possible locations for a St. James library branch include a lumber yard on Lake Avenue across from the elementary school; a former bank at Lake Avenue and Woodlawn Avenue; and the firehouse at Lake Avenue and North Country Road. Above, a view of the lumber yard on Friday, April 7, 2017. Photo Credit: Daniel Goodrich

The St. James Civic Association is pushing for a public library branch in the hamlet and will submit a formal proposal to the Smithtown Library District this spring, President Kerry Maher Weisse said.

The library has branches in Commack, Kings Park, Nesconset and Smithtown. Recently renovated, they are LEED-certified, with comfortable reading rooms, advanced technology like 3-D printers and space for extensive educational programming.

The Nesconset and Smithtown branches, the closest to St. James, are several miles away, and to reach either, residents of the hamlet of about 13,000 must cross some of the area’s busiest roads.

“We have children, and I don’t want them to go on [Route] 25a to go to the library, and nor am I going to have them cross [Route] 347,” Weisse said. “We want our own.”

Library District Director Robert Lusak said in an interview last week that it was impossible to estimate the startup costs of a new library, but that the Nesconset branch, built in a disused New York State armory that the library got for free, cost $8.2 million when it opened in 2011.

The district’s $14.3 million budget sets aside $1.5 million for construction debt service and is built on property taxes of $307.07 on a typical home assessed at $5,500.

Weisse identified three prospective locations for a St. James branch: a lumber yard across Lake Avenue from St. James Elementary School; the former Capital One bank at Lake Avenue and Woodlawn Avenue; and the firehouse at Lake Avenue and North Country Road, which is in use but fire district officials have said they may sell.

“Our property has been on market for some time,” said Peter Kuhn, St. James Lumber Corporation owner. “If someone ever came to us, we would listen to the offer.”

Weisse said she hoped a bond proposal could go before voters as early as this fall, but history suggests that goal is ambitious. Library officials started planning improvements on the existing branches in 2003 and didn’t take a bond proposal to voters until 2007. Voters narrowly rejected that proposal, for $26 million; in 2008, they approved a $21 million proposal, 3,556 to 3,184.

“There’s lots of behind the scene work that has to go on prior to a vote even being established,” Lusak said. “Does the area have a large unserved or underserved population? Are there special circumstances that the library wants to address, are there geographical boundaries that inhibit access to nearby facilities, does the community in question have a distinct identity?”

Supporters of a St. James branch would face another hurdle in convincing voters to fund construction: a bond proposal would go before the full electorate of the district.

“Other taxpayers have to understand that we’ve been paying for their libraries for how long,” Weisse said.

FACTS ABOUT ST. JAMES

Emerged as a distinct settlement in mid-19th century

Current population: About 13,000, with approximately 3,384 children and teenagers

Median household income: $93,034

Source: Census, Smithtown Historical Society

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