Just down the road from Belmont Park, home of the third leg of horseracing’s Triple Crown, sits the Elmont Memorial Library, which serves over 1,000 patrons per day in its 60,000 square foot facility. Newcomers to the library often remark about the impressive exterior and spacious interior of the building, which has a unique feature—a 430 seat, state of the art theatre. The story of how the library came to house the theatre, and how the theatre is being used to help the community, can serve as a model for libraries nationwide.
In 2003, the library had insufficient space and parking to adequately serve the Elmont population. A plan was put forth to demolish the unused Alva T. Stanforth Junior High School and build a new library in its place. Library consultant Frank Marino suggested keeping one part of the old school—the auditorium—and converting it into a modern, professional theatre. Not only would preserving the auditorium maintain an important connection for many Elmont residents who had graduated or watched their children graduate from Alva T. Stanforth, but it would also provide an opportunity for the library to give back to the community for years to come.
Residents passed a bond in early 2004, demolition and asbestos abatement of the school were completed, and in April 2005 the New York State Department of Education gave the green light for the project to go to bid. After a groundbreaking ceremony,
construction began in mid-2005 and was completed by late summer 2006. The new building included the upgraded theatre, which the library uses to present popular movies, programs, and concerts free of charge. Every June, the library is filled with excited children and proud families as the local elementary schools use the theatre to hold their graduations.
Soon after opening in 2006, the library entered into a lease agreement with a local organization, the BroadHollow Theatre Company. BroadHollow uses the theatre to present its off Broadway plays and musicals, but built into the lease is an agreement which states that the group will perform three shows per year gratis, with the revenue going to the library’s scholarship fund to support local high school students.
In 2008, the Elmont Library received the Gale Cengage Learning Financial Development Award, presented at the ALA Conference in Anaheim, California. The award recognized the library for the innovative steps of converting the old auditorium into a professional theatre, fostering a successful partnership with a theatre company, and developing a sustainable fundraising program.
Over the years, the system has indeed proved sustainable. Since the program’s inception, over $20,000 has been raised for the scholarship fund. This year, over $4,000 was generated through Broadhollow’s sellout performances of Peter Pan and Cinderella, and the library’s Board of Trustees and Director were proud to present checks of $1,000 each to four deserving local high school students, who will use the money toward their college education.