The Hunts Point Branch Library on Southern Boulevard.

Hunts Point library will close for 18 months

Library officials estimate that renovations to the landmarked building will take 18 months and cost $20 million.

The Hunts Point Branch Library on Southern Boulevard.

Youth center initiative won’t happen, says NYPL

Education advocates’ long-held hopes of converting the third floor of the Hunts Point branch library into a reading and recreation center for teens appear to have come up empty.

New York Public Library officials say the third floor will instead be used as a mechanical and equipment room. The landmarked, 89 year old building will be closed down early next year so that repairs to the facade can start, and an elevator and a staircase to the second floor added. Library officials estimate that renovations will take 18 months and cost $20 million.

In 2014 Community Board 2 voted to support a proposal by an education advocate and history buff, to convert the third floor into a reading and recreation center for youth, hoping to replicate a project on the third floor of the Hamilton Grange Branch on 145th Street in Harlem. That branch’s third floor has an amphitheater, 30 computers, and a game center, along with programming for youth. Library officials have said initially that there won’t be sufficient funds left after renovations for the youth initiative.

After visiting the 145th Street branch that year, Board 2’s then-Education Committee Chairman Rick Sherman came away impressed, saying that “it was a great multi-use of the room.” He predicted back then that the Hunts Point branch’s third floor would similarly “be a great thing for the community.”

If the local branch closes down early next year as planned, library administrators say they would seek a temporary site during the repair phase. At a Board 2 meeting on April 25, NYPL’s Associate Director for Government and Community Affairs Norah Yahya said that there has been talk of moving operations temporarily to the Woodstock branch on East 160th Street, but Board 2 Chair Roberto Crespo responded, “That isn’t anywhere near here. It shows they don’t really care.” Library officials are hesitant to rent an alternate space because, said Yahyah, “Temp sites cost money. We have to pay rent.”

Crespo insists that before he signs off on a letter of support, the library should agree to rent alternate space for the public, remain open four days per week instead of the two days per week NYPL has proposed, and empty out the garage behind the local branch so that that building can be used entirely for programming. Currently NYPL uses the garage as a storage site for discarded furniture from branch libraries around the city and has proposed continuing to use half of the garage space for unwanted furniture and the other half for community programming.

Sherman, who was one of the board members to push for a youth center at the Hunts Point branch in 2014, was also present at the April 25 meeting, and said he was “disappointed” that the idea of a youth center in the Longwood branch appears dead.

Board 2’s Youth Services Committee Chair Larry Robinson urged fellow board members to “stand up to the plate and say ‘no,’” to the proposal.

In an email, a spokeswoman from the library wrote to The Express that every branch “is unique and planning renovations, such as the one at Hunt’s Point, must take into account a number of different factors including the community’s needs.”
“The renovation planned for Hunt’s Point has been designed to modernize and update the branch while preserving details of the iconic Carnegie building,” including updates to improve accessibility, available bathrooms on each floor,” and “upgrades to the elevator, HVAC, plumbing and electrical systems,” as well as “a new garden, additional meeting rooms, and designated teen areas to support programs and services for our younger patrons.”

The branch first opened in 1929, and was “built in the architectural style of 14th-century Florence,” according to the NYPL website. It was the last of 39 library branches in the city built with funds donated by industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.

The story was updated on May 3 to include comments from the NYPL.

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