FAQs about the library’s proposed building project


Why is the town asking to spend $36 million on the library when they could be upgrading the bathrooms at Elm Avenue Park or addressing local water issues?
The library and the Town of Bethlehem are two separate government agencies. Town of Bethlehem money is not used for library expenses, as the library budget is separately approved by residents of the school district. This budget is overseen by an elected Board of Trustees. The library and the school district share the same borders, but both of those budgets are also distinct. While there is a great deal of overlap between the town and the school district, there are some people who live within the library district but not the Town of Bethlehem and vice versa.  

The average home price in Bethlehem is approximately $350,000 – not $250,000. Why not use that number for an estimate instead?
For a home assessed at $350,000, the increase to the tax bill would be approximately $17 per month, or $203 annually. The debt service on the proposed bond is approximately $2 million annually. This translates to a 58-cent per $1,000 increase in the library tax rate. You can calculate your own tax estimate by taking your assessed value and dividing by 1,000, then multiplying that number by 0.58. Keep in mind that assessed value and full market value can vary widely. You can look up your home’s assessed value here.
If the building project bond is approved, the total library tax rate would increase from $1.34 to $1.92 per $1,000 of assessed value.
The tax rate for the Bethlehem Central School District is $21.61 per $1,000. Click here for details.
Bethlehem taxpayers pay $3.80 per $1,000 in Albany County taxes and approximately $5.20-$6.70 per $1,000 in combined town, sewer, water, highway and fire district taxes, depending on which fire district a home is located in. Click here for details. 

How long is the duration of the bond?
The library is seeking to bond an amount not to exceed $32 million over 25 years, with a total project cost not to exceed $36 million.  

What alternative funding sources have been explored?  Has the library considered any amount of fund raising in an effort to minimize the substantial tax burden to taxpayers? 
As a government entity, the library is prohibited from fundraising. We do have a close relationship with the Friends of Bethlehem Public Library, a charitable organization that supports the library in a number of ways. For the past five years, the Friends have been actively fundraising with the goal of making a significant six-figure contribution to the library’s building project. Click here to learn more about the Friends.
The geothermal portion of the proposed project is eligible for a major grant award from the American Reinvestment Act, which brings the cost closer to that of a traditional HVAC system.
New York State construction grant money is available through the Upper Hudson Library System, which awards between $1 million and $1.5 million each year to the 29 libraries in the system. Typically, these competitive grants are in the tens of thousands. The library received a significant award of $289,000 for a past project and will be applying for assistance again.

The building

If the building project moves forward, how will the library protect the community’s investment, or do you envision having to go back to taxpayers in 10 years or so to ask for another increase?
This building proposal is intended as a 50-year ask – meaning we expect the planned updates and improvements to serve this community for another 50 years without any significant additional needs. We believe we have been good caretakers of our current building, which has not seen any change to its footprint during its 50-plus years, and we plan to continue that thoughtful stewardship. Each year, we set aside a portion of our budget as a contingency to deal with any unplanned emergencies and repairs so that we do not let essential functions within the library building deteriorate.

How would this project increase accessibility?
One of our primary goals in design development is to increase accessibility for all library users. The main entrance to the library is more than 400 feet from our most distant parking space and not readily visible. By reorienting the entrance, the proposed design would decrease that distance to 180 feet and bring the accessible parking spots even closer. In addition to serving families with small children and folks on the go, a permanent curbside pickup fixture would also benefit library users with limited mobility. Locating all of the library functions on a single floor will eliminate a number of accessibility challenges, as well.

Does the proposed library renovation increase shelf space?
The building project is expected to bring an increase in shelf space for both the teen and children’s collection. In other areas, the architects have been directed to maintain the capacity of the library’s collection. New, flexible shelving will allow us to address collection needs as they evolve over the years.

Will this address wait times on new releases?
We carefully watch borrowing trends to try to get people the titles they are looking for, delivered in the way they prefer to read them. When we see multiple hold requests on a popular item, we purchase additional copies – for both physical and digital formats. We will continue to devote ample resources to cultivating the physical collection and purchasing multiple copies of popular new releases to minimize wait times. We are also investing in digital resources by purchasing additional titles in OverDrive, and we have increased the Hoopla monthly borrow limit. These popular e-resources and others have contributed greatly to our circulation gains but require no physical space in the library.

Was adding a second level considered?
Adding a second level had been considered at several points during the planning and design process. When the numbers were run, the cost of building up exceeded the cost of building out. For this reason, along with the inherent inaccessibility of a second floor in a public library, the library board chose to pursue a single-level design.

How many people does the library currently serve and what is the expected increase after expansion?
Last year, the library counted 212,189 in-person visits. Total program attendance was 36,936. Out of a population of 28,631 residents, 21,880 are Bethlehem library cardholders. The goal of the building project is to better serve this community and encourage those 6,751 residents who aren’t currently cardholders to explore their library resources.

Meeting rooms

Why does the library need a 250-seat conference space?
The library hosts large events once or twice a month, where patrons are routinely turned away due to lack of space, such as local history talks with the Bethlehem Historical Society, concerts and children’s activities – especially those featuring live animals or popular book characters. A 250-seat community room would allow us to comfortably accommodate those who would like to attend.
But it’s not the only way this space would be used. When not at its 250-seat capacity, the community room can be reconfigured into multiple spaces that would hold 50- and 100-person gatherings for the library or local community groups. This flexibility will allow multiple 50-person meetings or events to take place at the same time, easing scheduling for this in-demand service.

If community members or the library need a large meeting space, why can’t they use Town Hall or the high school and middle school auditoriums?
At this time, the Town of Bethlehem does not have any meeting spaces available for the public to reserve, other than outdoor pavilions and picnic areas. Click here to see what’s available. The library does have a very successful partnership with the town for larger co-sponsored events, such as the Seniors Prom at Town Hall and the Thursdays in the Park series at Elm Avenue Park, but many other events are limited by time (no evenings or weekend availability) and/or staffing requirements.
The school district allows public use of its buildings, but availability and other restrictions limit the options. Click here to view their guidelines.

Parking and exterior

Why is the library tearing down the house on Borthwick for more parking space? Have other uses been considered?
The proposed building design uses the site at 59 Borthwick Ave. for a designated curbside pickup area, a service this community has embraced as essential since the pandemic. To do this, the house would be demolished. The Borthwick property was purchased in 2017 to address the library’s future capital needs and is currently used as off-site library storage. The library did consider alternate uses, but a structural analysis was conducted in 2020 that found the building was not suitable for library use due to the cost and difficulty of bringing it up to code. The curbside pickup loop will  feature additional landscaping and green space, as well as a couple of additional spaces for parking.

How many parking spaces would be included in the renovated lot? Is there enough parking for a 250-person community room, and where would the overflow parking go?
The library currently has 117 spaces, and the building proposal would bring that number to 136. The library’s outdoor summer concert series has often reached a peak attendance of around 250 and has not experienced any issues with parking. Additional municipal parking is available at Town Hall, and because of the library’s accessibility to walkers and cyclists, many people use alternative transportation to get to our events. We believe the increase in spaces, along with overflow parking at Town Hall will more than accommodate these larger programs. The project will also bring more accessible spots closer to the library entrance.

How is this new building going to fit into the aesthetic of Olde Delmar?
The architects have been diligent about designing an exterior for the library that blends seamlessly with the current building while adding additional natural elements. We recognize that many people use our grounds to picnic and gather, and a landscape architect is working to make sure those park-like spaces are retained and enhanced. The planned geothermal HVAC system will also eliminate the noise and unsightly aspects of the current rooftop units.


What is the down time for this renovation? Will the library be closed for several months?
The library will remain open for most of the construction. At no time will it be closed more than a week or two, which would most likely take place during the asbestos remediation portion of the project. We recognized early on the importance of providing library services during the project and pursued a phased construction plan to allow us to do so. Phasing the construction does increase the overall project cost by about $1 million.

Geothermal FAQs

Click here for the architects’ geothermal presentation.

What were the alternative HVAC options discussed?

The library originally looked at three different HVAC options for the proposed design. The first was a traditional gas-fired system like the current one. The second option would have used traditional rooftop handling units along with water source heat pumps. The third option, which the board chose to move forward with, is a geothermal option with distributed heat pumps.
The second option was quickly eliminated from the discussion because the estimated yearly energy cost was well above both the traditional gas-fired system and the geothermal/heat pump system.
The construction costs for a traditional system are estimated at $3.8 million compared to $7.6 million for the geothermal installation, however, engineers have identified refundable federal tax credits and rebates from National Grid that would bring the construction costs for geothermal in line with a gas-fired system. The geothermal system is also estimated to save $13,500 in yearly energy costs.
While the costs associated with this part of the building project certainly played a part in the discussion, the library also feels a strong commitment to sustainability in our community, and the proposed system would  reduce total site energy consumption by 61.5%.

What is the expected longevity of a geothermal system?

ASHRAE, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, estimates that the outdoor components, which make up the bulk of a geothermal system, have a lifespan of 50 or more years. The organization notes that the newer materials used in the ground loops perform so well that they come with a 50-year warranty but would likely last much longer due to being protected from the weather and other disturbances. A gas-fired HVAC system has a typical lifespan of 20-25 years.
Although natural gas is presently a cheaper fuel source than electricity, that is unlikely to be the case in the years ahead. Both federal and state governments have developed climate legislation to drastically reduce reliance on fossil fuels for energy consumption, and a geothermal system would position the library to be ahead of that shift.

Where will it be located?
The geothermal field would be located underneath the parking lot. The wells that make up the field will be entirely underground and not visible from the surface.

Comments are closed.