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Residents Split On Harrison Public Library Renovations

Mayor Ron Belmont and Councilman Joe Cannella discuss the Harrison Public Library renovations with fellow board members and the community Thursday night. Photo Credit: Patrick Stapleton
Harrison resident Art Loscalzo said other buildings need to be renovated before the library. Photo Credit: Patrick Stapleton

HARRISON, N.Y. – The community was split Thursday night over whether the potential multimillion-dollar renovations to the Harrison Library are essential to the town's future.

“A library is the intellectual and educational commitment of a town to its citizens,” lifelong resident Suzanne Iansenza said at the Harrison Town Board meeting. “We have got to make this happen. It’s important to the future of this town.”

But longtime resident Art Loscalzo said there are greater priorities — such as the Sollazzo Community Center.

“I really think that you should do something with the rec building,” said Loscalzo. “I was in there last night and I was embarrassed to say that this is the facility for the town of Harrison. It’s utterly ridiculous, it’s filthy and it needs some work done.”

The total cost of library renovations was estimated at $3.6 million in mid-November . Two-thirds of the money would come from private funds — a third of which would be the Halperin Foundation.

Since the death of his father, Richard, in 2008, Ross Halperin has made it his mission to raise funds for the library renovations, including working out the architecture and design with the library board. His father loved the library, which many, including those who work there, say is outdated. Significant renovations last occurred in 1984.

The town, which owns the building, would cover the costs of electrical, HVAC, fire protection and plumbing work for an estimated total of $1,096,998. Those issues must be addressed before major interior and exterior renovations can take place, Halperin said.

Renovations would include an expanded children’s area and teen center, plus 29 more computers for what Halperin said was “a truly once in a generation project.” The exterior, considered “ugly and uninviting,” Halperin said, would feature better use of windows to bring sunlight into the building.

Support for the project has grown: A petition to the Town Board to sign a public/private partnership agreement has garnered at least 1,000 signatures.

However, a public/private partnership contract between the town and the Halperin Foundation has not been reached. Halperin met with Councilman Joe Cannella on Thursday to discuss the contract.

Cannella, who expects a deal to be made, said the town's funding would come from grassroots campaigns.

“It will be an opportunity to do things that we would otherwise need to do anyway over the next reasonable period of time – four or five years,” he said. “It will have more stability, have greater lasting effect and be part of project that improves the facility which then can last for a very, very long period of time.”

Councilman Steve Malfitano said: “We’re obviously interested in seeing this evolve, so it won’t be for lack of trying. When you have public/private partnerships like that, it’s a great thing because you get the community involved. It’s a good cause. It reduces, obviously, the cost to the taxpayer.”

Halperin would like construction to start in 2014 at the latest.

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