About 80 neighborhood residents showed up this past Monday evening, March 12, to get an update on the status of our Park Slope Public Library reconstruction. And what a long journey this has been: located on 8th Street and 6th Avenue, the library has been shut down for almost 2-and-a-half years, amidst all kinds of delays, unforeseen construction problems, and budget snafus.
But, a year-and-a-half after the original completion date, we may finally be getting our library back. Linda Johnson, president of The Brooklyn Public Library, the entity that actually is in charge of the system, while acknowledging the unconscionable delays are “a great frustration of mine,” did assert rather emphatically that the library will be re-opened “in time for the school year, i.e. Labor Day.”
Brad Lander, City Councilmember for Park Slope, surely understanding that residents are rather piqued that they have been without a local library all this time, interpreted the Labor Day date as “not tomorrow, but at least on the horizon.” Well-put.
This writer sensed the mood of the audience at the P.S. 39 meeting was fundamentally frustrated, annoyed, even angry, but polite. Ms. Johnson kept her sense of humor, though, throughout – she posed, in fact, the rhetorical question of “Why does it take a shorter time for a 150-floor skyscraper in Shanghai to be built than a small Carnegie library be refurbished in Brooklyn?’ Good question, and no adequate answer.
The $6 million reconstruction project includes new features that needed to be added as a consequence of the Disabilities Act, including ramps and an elevator; new flooring and book shelves; lighting improvements; redone bathrooms, and new entrance doors. A façade upgrade will follow in a “second phase” of improvements post-Labor-Day opening.
The panel, including an architect, Ms. Johnson, Mr. Lander and other luminaries, asserted that the library building, an original Andrew Carnegie library built in 1897, presented age-related problems that were not foreseen in original project plans. Additionally, the building is Landmark-designated, and that means there has to be extra care in rehabbing the edifice.
It was a not case of cost overruns, though. Extra money did not have to be spent. It was the allocation of the monies that presented difficulties, as three organizations all have a say in how a budget’s money is disbursed – it’s a byzantine system, to say the least, causing debilitating delays.
But, finally, it appears Park Slope is getting its library back. Confessing to being possibly “overly optimistic” on previous occasions, Linda Johnson sounded almost certain this time that around Labor Day the Park Slope Public Library, with “bigger and better” features, will once again be operating. Let us pray.
By Jim Israel