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Public Library Signs New Temporary Lease At Shopping Center; Monthly Rent Is Raised

By Laura Goldblatt

With its initial lease expiring on December 31, 2003, the Princeton Public Library board of trustees approved a new agreement on August 19 that will allow the library to remain at its temporary location until April 2004, though the monthly rent will be increased from $6,300 to $19, 500 per month.

According to Library Director Leslie Burger, the original lease was being subsidized by the primary leaseholders, the Rite Aid Corporation. Though its lease ended in December 2002, the Princeton Shopping Center agreed to maintain the library's lease at the same rate until December of this year.

Ms. Burger stated that the original lease stipulated that lease extensions could be made at market value in three-month increments. But the library board was able to negotiate with the shopping center to alter the agreement to consist of extensions in four-month increments based upon the expectation that the new library is on schedule to be ready in April, 2004.

"We're exercising our right to renew on a short-term basis," said Harry Levine, the president of the library's board of trustees.

In addition, shopping center owners George Comfort & Sons agreed to make a $17,800 contribution to the library if it vacated the current temporary residence by April 30, 2004. "I've got nothing but good things to say about working with the shopping center," Mr. Levine said.

When it is completed, the new downtown library will contain 55,000 square feet spread over three floors. It will be twice as large as the old library, and nearly three times as large as the current, temporary library. The new building will be transparent, with energy-efficient glass that will allow pedestrians walking by the library to look in, and those inside to see out.

On the first floor, patrons will find the fiction collection, videos, DVDs, audiobooks, CDs, computers with high-speed internet access, a café, a meeting room, a library store, a welcome desk, a reader services desk, and a community living room. The lending services desk, equipped with new express checkout machines to make borrowing materials faster and easier, will also be located on this floor.

The second floor will be dedicated to quiet study and will hold the nonfiction, biography and reference collections, as well as a catalog of newspapers and magazines and the Princeton Collection. In order to facilitate study groups, there will be three group study rooms, a large conference room, a reading room, and a room outfitted with digital technology.

Dedicated to children, the third floor will feature accommodations for those of shorter stature and separate age-specific sections for preschoolers, grade school children, and teens. Princeton Borough has agreed to reserve 85 spaces in its new 500-car parking garage for the use of library patrons only. Cardholders can park free for up to two hours when they visit the library. In addition, there will be a secondary entrance for drop-offs and book returns. Recently, there has been a movement to maintain a branch library at the Princeton Shopping Center after the new library is completed. Those who support the initiative note that for many, the shopping center location is more convenient and that parking will continue to be a problem despite the new garage. They also point out that although the temporary library location is crowded, it has been more popular than ever.

The number of patrons visiting the library has increased 25 percent since the move, and the number of people checking out books has been rising five to six percent a year.

There is currently a movement underway to recruit what remains of the 995 necessary signatures of registered voters in Princeton Township in order to file a petition to keep a branch library at the shopping center. Even if that number is met, there is no guarantee that the question will go to ballot because under New Jersey statute, the Township Committee isn't required to have a referendum based upon a petition of voters.

The raise in rent will neither hinder nor help considerations of maintaining a branch library at the Princeton Shopping Center, said Ms. Burger. The market value rent of approximately $20,000 was considered in the initial calculations, and thus the most recent increase in rent poses no surprises. She stressed that she feels that discussions of a library branch are premature.

Mr. Levine explained that the new library was intended to be Princeton's sole library and the plans for it are designed as such.

"We need to get settled in the new library and see whether parking and accessibility are a problem before we make any final decisions," Ms. Burger said.

Mr. Levine agreed. "As far as I'm concerned and the board of trustees is concerned, our primary concern is moving into our new 55,000-square-foot downtown library. If the physical structure is inadequate, we will consider other options to supplement the building. We'd like to see how the community uses the brand-new building before making any decisions."

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