Community Library Committee Report

E. Use of Existing Building

Members: Zach Studenroth (Coordinator), Dave Lee, Susan Kinsella, Gail Slevin, Gloria Primm Brown and Priscilla Ciccariello


The Use of Existing Building Working Group was given the task of assessing the usable space[s] and interior configuration of the existing library in the context of exploring a “2-building” solution for the JJML’s expansion. The projected needs and associated spatial requirements of the proposed new library that have already been analyzed and described by other Working Groups of the CLC were carefully reviewed. The work of our group was to examine to what extent the existing building can accommodate specific and essential library functions, programs and services — all aspects of any future plan — and thereby accomplish two related objectives:

  1. fully integrate the historic, landmark structure into an expanded, “2-building” library program
  2. reduce the size of the new library facility by accommodating necessary functions in the existing building

The Working Group is responding to community input that places a high value on preserving and continuing to utilize the historic building for library purposes.


The JJML’s current building is a familiar landmark that occupies a prominent site on Sag Harbor’s Main Street, close to the heart of the village’s commercial center and within walking distance of its historic, residential neighborhoods. The library’s imposing neo-classical design, indicative of its c. 1910 construction, is distinctly civic in appearance and emblematic of its public functions. Its internal 6,000 square feet, limited accessibility to two of three stories, relatively small village lot and minimal parking are nevertheless major impediments to its expansion in situ. Despite these shortcomings, it is generally felt that the landmark structure can be restored and adapted for use in the expanded library program, and thus continue to function as an integral part of the future JJML.

The preservation and adaptive use of the existing library as a functioning component of an expanded, future library facility may actually present a remarkable opportunity for the residents of Sag Harbor and surrounding environs. The historic building, while too small to house all of the JJML’s current and future programs, is an important public building and a major component of the village historic district. Its downtown site makes it accessible for many patrons and within walking distance of other village amenities. Its imposing architectural design and massive brick and stone construction convey a sense of permanence and grandeur, qualities that are associated with public and municipal functions. The residents of Sag Harbor are indeed lucky to have a building of such quality and wise to seek ways of incorporating it into the future JJML expansion scheme.

While the cost of operating two buildings is undoubtedly greater than one, the initial cost of constructing or converting additional space to accommodate a expanded library will be significantly reduced by creating a smaller facility and by developing funding sources for the restoration and renovation of the old building that are not otherwise available for new construction. It is not likely that a “2-building” solution will result in larger staffing needs, inasmuch as each building will provide discrete functions with little duplication of these needs identified in the future program. Further, the preservation of the landmark building and the assignment of specific functions to it may help to broaden the base of support, both for capital needs in the construction phase and for future operating purposes [e.g., endowment opportunities].


Library functions and services

We recommend that the existing library building be retained and its future use focus on three main functions [each associated with a separate floor and existing room layout], plus support services:

  • Library services [Top floor – rotunda and corner rooms]:

    Selected periodicals & newspapers
    Special reference materials and other appropriate collections
    Quiet study rooms/carrels
    Private tutorial spaces
    Computer/technology access [internet, video/DVD viewing]
    Educational/cultural public programming [75-100 people]
    Revenue-generating corporate, business & private function spaces

  • Local history collections & archives [Middle level]

    Tooker historical collection
    Steinbeck & Doctorow collections
    Sag Harbor Whaling Museum, SPLIA/Dering archives [on loan]
    Genealogy research & copy room [microfiche, microfilm, large format copier]

  • Program/meeting areas [Ground floor]

    Educational/cultural public programming
    Community resource center [pamphlet & flier distribution, bulletin boards]
    Revenue-generating corporate, business & private function spaces
    Exhibition space[s]
    Reception/circulation desk
    “Friends of the JJML” office, meeting room & gift counter

  • Support functions & features

    Elevator, fire stair
    Restrooms [all 3 floors]
    Staff office[s]
    Storage [chairs, tables, supplies]

Preservation and Restoration

The JJML’s building retains a high degree of architectural integrity and is largely unaltered from its construction nearly a century ago. The preservation of its neo-classical details [both exterior & interior] is essential for maintaining the quality and appearance of the building. As a contributing resource in the Sag Harbor Historic District, the exterior envelope of the building and interior features, ranging from bronze lighting fixtures to oak furniture and architectural details, all contribute to the historical value and importance of the building. Acquisition of grants to restore and preserve historic fabric requires careful identification and planning.

  • Preservation of the historic architecture places a high priority on maintaining architectural details and furnishings associated with the original structure [i.e., window openings, roof lines, etc.]
  • Restoration of the building and site features [e.g., brick retaining wall along back property line] will be planned to complement future uses, access, etc.

A single addition to the building, location to be determined, can incorporate the elevator, second egress, restrooms and other facilities required to bring the building up to modern code and standards of public use. Great care should be exercised in the massing, styling and choice of materials for such an addition. Imitation of the neo-classical detailing of the existing building is discouraged.

  • Adaptive use will address codes and standards, converting the facility into a fully accessible building with features that support its multiple uses [i.e., elevator, emergency egress, HVAC, etc.]

Consistent with the proposed library programs, functions and services enumerated above, a quiet “contemplative” garden, terraces and other outdoor features [paths, benches, lighting] would augment the usable space of the historic building. This 3-season feature could be used by regular library patrons and non-patrons, and is potentially an additional asset to the future library program and a way of “reaching out” to more community residents.

  • Utilize the site more fully [e.g., outdoor garden(s) & reading areas].

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