By MADDY VITALEThe return to normal, where people could come together in the Ocean City Free Public Library, may seem like something of a memory since the coronavirus pandemic forced closures throughout the state of public meeting places.As coronavirus restrictions by Gov. Phil Murphy ease, allowing the opening of venues, increasing the number of those allowed to gather and opening the door to life more closely to what the country was accustomed to, library officials will be ready. And the hope is that by fall of 2020, the construction of a major renovation project to the library’s second floor, with the help of state funding, will provide a new and improved hub of activity for patrons at no cost to the taxpayers.Library Director Karen Mahar learned of grants through the Library Construction Bond Act in 2017, but library and city officials are awaiting word from the state about funding.OCFPL Board of Trustees President Jennifer Shirk explained Tuesday that the renovation plan has continued to be a priority, but COVID-19 restrictions and obvious changes in procedures will make the project unfold differently than expected.“The library and board wanted this renovation so that meeting, socializing, and collaborating could be enhanced. However, since COVID-19, it has been forcing us to think the opposite for public safety, so the delay by the state has not affected us,” Shirk said. She continued, “Most likely, once we hear on the grant, and construction eventually begins, it should not affect library use because of the limited patron hours and usage that will be put into effect once we do reopen — at least at this point.“But again, things are constantly changing in this pandemic. We are still looking to the future, where people will be able to meet, learn, and gather together as a community,” Shirk added.The Ocean City Free Public Library is located in the Community Center at 1735 Simpson Ave.Architect William McLees, of William McLees Architecture in Somers Point, is designing the plan to modernize the facility and make it more user-friendly.The building improvements will consist of an expansion of the young adults section, new furnishings, brighter lighting, and more quiet space for study time as well as “maker space” for do-it-yourself types of projects.Mahar said that the city officials submitted a grant proposal for a matching grant of $660,000 for the estimated $1.3 million project.“This is no burden for the taxpayers,” Mahar said. “The city bonded for the whole project and we are hoping to get the grant for the matching funds and over time we will pay the city back.”Mahar commended the work of city officials, specifically Vince Bekier, the department head of operations and engineering, and Rachel N. Ballezzi, project coordinator, as well as McClees, for submitting the grant proposal to the state.“They did a fantastic job. We are very excited about getting started with the project,” Mahar said. “We are hoping that the project will begin in the fall and it will be something positive among all the negative.” For more information visit the Ocean City Free Public Library at www.oceancitylibrary.org. To learn about the funding go to, www.njstatelib.org/services_for_libraries/new-jersey-library-construction-bond-act/ Renovations to the second floor will include better lighting, an expansion of the “young adults” section and new furnishings.