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Expanded Washington Twp. library opens its doors

For Thomas Treusch, the relocated Washington Township library could not open soon enough.

For Thomas Treusch, the relocated Washington Township library could not open soon enough.

"I've been unemployed for several months, and I was always using the computers and the other resources to look for work," said Treusch, 54, who lives in the township.

So when the expanded Margaret E. Heggan Free Public Library in Gloucester County opened its doors Wednesday, after several weeks to complete the move, he was first in line.

Fortunately for Treusch, the new library, on Delsea Drive, has 16 computers in a quiet area off the main room, twice as many as its predecessor about a block away on East Holly Avenue. Teenagers have their own computer lab with five stations, and younger children have six computers for their use.

The facility is much larger, too - nearly double the 10,000-square-foot former location. The old place was so tight that, in 2008, a member of the library's friends group reported that books were being stored in the bathroom.

"What is really so remarkable is that it is no extra cost to the taxpayers," said Assemblyman Paul Moriarty (D., Gloucester), who was mayor from 2004 to 2008, when the then-burgeoning township was trying to decide how to finance a new library.

"We were able to double the size," Moriarty said, "and it's not going to cost any taxpayer any more."

He and Mayor Matthew Lyons credited a frugal library board for managing expenses for many years so that the new facility could come in on budget.

The township is paying $2.1 million to the building's former owner, the Education and Information Resource Center. The vacated building will be sold or used for other township business.

Throughout May, 26 library employees moved nearly 100,000 books, CDs, DVDs, and other items to the new building. While the collection is the same size, the extra space will allow for enhanced programming, said library director Kim Rinaldi, who came to the job a year ago.

"We have a bigger children's section and the computer room and new meeting rooms, all of which we can use to make the library what libraries used to be - a community center," Rinaldi said. Over the summer, she and her staff will formulate ideas for adult classes, children's reading groups, and other activities, she said.

Because Washington Township is so geographically large, Rinaldi hopes to do more outreach and events in the schools.

Washington Township is bucking a national trend, since cutbacks - not polished new buildings - have been the norm for libraries of late, say authorities. Gov. Christie's proposed state budget would slash aid to public libraries 74 percent. Last year, according to the New Jersey Association of School Librarians, 40 school districts cut a total of more than 100 positions.

Lyons said he hoped the enlarged Heggan would allow a younger generation to create the sort of childhood memories he has cherished.

"I remember when I went at age 5 or so, walking to the old library," Lyons said of the original township library on Ganttown Road, which was demolished in the 1970s to make way for a Vietnam veterans memorial. "I did it with such joy. It was the center of the community, as I hope this one will be."