State lawmakers Monday unanimously approved spending $87.4 million on 38 public library construction projects in 16 New Jersey counties.

The comfortable margin by which the spending passed belies the lengthy journey the spending has taken – from its introduction in the Legislature nearly six years ago to approval in a 2017 referendum to a drawn-out process of getting rules for the program in place.

“There definitely is a sense of relief and excitement among librarians, especially the lucky libraries that were actually awarded money through this grant,” said Jeanne Marie Ryan, director of the Roselle Public Library, which is being awarded $5.5 million.

“I don’t know if frustrating is the right word,” Ryan said. “It was certainly an education to realize how long it could take to work on a project from start to finish.”

The state last borrowed money for library projects in 1999, when $45 million was approved. At that time, local governments had to put up $3 in matching funds for every $1 in state grants. This time, there is a $1-for-$1 match required.

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Voters approved $125 million in borrowing in the 2017 election, and it took the state three years to announce the first round of awardees. A second round of grants is expected to be announced in early 2021.

“If anyone had told me back then that having Gov. Christie sign the bill was going to one of the easier parts of the process, I think I would have laughed. But it was one of the easier parts of the process,” Ryan said. “Very interesting to see how government works sometimes.”

More than 129 applications were reviewed by a committee of experts from various state agencies, including the Economic Development Authority, Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Community Affairs, Department of the Treasury and the New Jersey Historical Commission.

“One of the most basic things that will be enabled by this bill is Americans with Disabilities (Act) compliance, which is a sad thing to say, but there are libraries that are not fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act,” Ryan said. “So that’s a very basic thing that this money will help.”

“In my own library, we don’t have a community programming room in a community of over 20,000 people,” Ryan said. ”We’re in a 1938 building without a community programming room. When we do programs, we have to either clear people out of the adult side or we cram them into a very small children’s room.”

“The bill is going to also enable technology for a lot of places and technology upgrades, which is so vital because for so many communities, the library really is where they connect to the internet because they don’t have broadband access at home,” she said.

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Given that more than two-thirds of first-round applicants didn’t receive grants and that libraries have emerged as community hubs far beyond books, Ryan said that after the remaining $37.6 million in grant money is awarded “I certainly think it might be worthwhile to seek ongoing library construction funding from the Legislature.”

The following grants are awarded through the bill now on Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk:

  • $379,960 to the Atlantic City Free Public Library in Atlantic City, Atlantic County
  • $322,091 to the Atlantic County Hammonton Branch Library in Hammonton, Atlantic County
  • $175,000 to the Avon Public Library in Avon-By-The-Sea Borough, Monmouth County
  • $1,000,000 to the Free Public Library and Cultural Center of Bayonne in Bayonne, Hudson County
  • $37,500 to the Bernardsville Public Library in Bernardsville Borough, Somerset County
  • $3,447,081 to the Cape May County Library at Historic Franklin Street School in Cape May, Cape May County
  • $2,329,500 to the Cranbury Public Library in Cranbury Township, Middlesex County
  • $524,142 to the Cumberland County Library in Bridgeton, Cumberland County
  • $1,200,000 to the Dover Free Public Library in Dover, Morris County
  • $500,000 to the East Orange Public Library in East Orange, Essex County
  • $3,497,500 to the Fanwood Memorial Library in Fanwood Borough, Union County
  • $600,000 to the Franklin Township Public Library in Franklin Township, Gloucester County
  • $1,314,000 to the Franklin Township Public Library, Southern Branch, in Franklin Park, Somerset County
  • $889,000 to the Freehold Public Library in Freehold Borough, Monmouth County
  • $130,404 to the Garfield Public Library in Garfield, Bergen County
  • $980,837 to the Hunterdon County Library in Flemington, Hunterdon County
  • $5,000,000 to the Jersey City Public Library in Jersey City, Hudson County
  • $1,525,475 to the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library in Wallington, Bergen County
  • $90,000 to the Leonia Public Library in Leonia Borough, Bergen County
  • $1,100,000 to the Lincoln Park Public Library in Lincoln Park Borough, Morris County
  • $8,388,250 to the Maplewood Memorial Library in Maplewood Township, Essex County
  • $3,262,260 to the Millville Public Library in Millville, Cumberland County
  • $1,950,000 to the Monmouth County Library Headquarters in Manalapan, Monmouth County
  • $248,640 to the Monroe Township Library in Monroe Township, Middlesex County
  • $5,375,000 to the Montgomery Township Branch (Somerset County Library System) in Montgomery Township, Somerset County
  • $507,000 to the Paramus Public Library in Paramus Borough, Bergen County
  • $2,999,530 to the Parsippany-Troy Hills Public Library, Lake Hiawatha Branch in Lake Hiawatha, Morris County
  • $734,812 to the Paterson Danforth Memorial Library in Paterson, Passaic County
  • $9,364,500 to the Pennsauken Free Public Library in Pennsauken Township, Camden County
  • $150,000 to the Red Bank Public Library in Red Bank Borough, Monmouth County
  • $292,750 to the Ringwood Public Library in Ringwood Borough, Passaic County
  • $263,159 to the River Edge Public Library in River Edge Borough, Bergen County
  • $5,500,000 to the Roselle Public Library in Roselle Borough, Union County
  • $3,586,852 to the South Brunswick Public Library in South Brunswick Township, Middlesex County
  • $3,080,875 to the Sussex County Library System (Dennis Memorial Library Branch) in Newton, Sussex County
  • $139,705 to the Totowa Public Library in Totowa Borough, Passaic County
  • $12,500,000 to the West New York Public Library in West New York, Hudson County
  • $3,098,217 to the West Orange Public Library in West Orange Township, Essex County

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