From the dust of a scadel, new library rises

By Howard Prosnitz, Staff Writer

Teaneck Suburbanite, August 13, 2009, p. 10

Frank Hall faced his first administrative crisis on the night that his fellow council members chose him as mayor. At that June 1978 meeting, Township Manager Werner Schmidt announced that Olive Tamborelle, Teaneck's long time library director, had informed him that more than a million dollars that she claimed to have raised through private donations to finance a new library building did not, in fact, exist.

The resulting scandal derailed plans to build a $3.3 million library in the municipal complex parking lot and forced Tamborelle to resign.

Tamborelle, who began working at the Teaneck Library part-time in 1941, became a full-time employee in 1953 and ultimately rose to the position of director.

The Teaneck Public Library constructed in 1930s and added to in the 1950s, had become cramped for book space. In 1969, voters rejected a referendum to build a new library by a vote of 3,426 - 2,032.

According to a report, Tamborelle was deeply disappointed at the outcome of the referendum and conceived the idea of financing a new library through private funding.

Library renovationAn informal committee was set to raise donations with New Jersey Sen. Matthew Feldman, a former Teaneck mayor, as honorary chair. Membership on the committee frequently changed, but all bookkeeping was in the hands of Tamborelle, who periodically informed the library board and the council that the amount was growing. The township, in the meantime, obtained a federal grant for almost $1 million.

"She was a very devoted librarian who recognized the need for a new library," said Hall. "It was the bicentennial year and she came up with the plan to raise $1,000 each from 1,776 donors."

Weeks before the federal grant was to expire, as ground had not been broken on the building, Tamborelle announced that $1.2 million had been raised through private donations, enough money, combined with the grant, for work to begin.

"So we went ahead and hired a contractor. The contractor had already started digging when she came in and said she didn't really have the money," said Hall.

Tamborelle had raised only a fraction of the $1.2 million she claimed to have. She had even morgaged her own home to add money to the fund, announcing that a wealthy Italian individual had contributed $50,000.

"It was all a public relations to try to bring in more donations," said Hall.

Tamborelle's bookkeeping had exaggerated the size of the few donations that had come in and added fictitious ones.

Although the accounts were fabricated, no money had been stolen, and the Bergen County prosecutor declined to press charges.

After the scandal broke, Tamborelle went into seclusion with relatives in another part of the state and sought psychiatric help, according to newspaper accounts at the time. She resigned from the library soon after.

Despite the scandal, residents generally expressed sympathy for Tamborelle, who had never married and had taken care of her terminally ill elderly parents until their deaths.

"My heart always went out to her," Hall said."She was a librarian to the core, and she wanted that library more than anything else in the world."

Following the disclosure of the fictitious funding, Hall and Schmidt traveled to Philadelphia, where they persuaded federal representatives to extend the deadline of the grant.

The township then found an architect who designed a library that would preserve the existing building while doubling the floor space.

A former open courtyard today houses the library's circulation area. The windows and brick wall of the original building were left in place, separating what is today the reference room from the new wing.

Unlike the unbuilt library that was to be substantially funded through private donations, the addition was financed through a public bond.

As mayor, Hall served on both the library borad of trustees and the planning board. On a single August evening, when both boards and the council were scheduled to meet, Hall obtained approvals from all three bodies for the new construction.

"This was a big achievement and I am very proud of that library," said Hall, noting that the school board publically opposed the library addition.

"The public library is a counter to the school system. There are certain things that the library does better," Hall said.