Andrea Karshan's Articles, Brooklyn, Libraries

A Tale Of Two Libraries

Screen-Shot-2016-07-21-at-2.34.44-AMFor the Brooklyn Public Library and its many patrons this summer will be the best of times, it will be the worst of times.

That after the Cadman Plaza Branch, 280 Cadman Plaza West, is being readied for the wrecking ball to make way for 36-story tower of market-rate condominiums, while the brownstone Park Slope Library Branch, 431 6th Avenue, is getting a $250,000 infusion of taxpayer money for construction of a storytelling amphitheater, community gardening space, paths, and planters.

Of the two projects, the Cadman Plaza deal is by far the most controversial.

Under the deal, the city approved the BPL selling the site to developer David Kramer and his Hudson Companies for $52 million to develop the high rise and condos. In return, Kramer has agreed to construct a new 26,260-square foot library on the bottom floors, 114 units of affordable housing off-site in Clinton Hill, the development of a new 5,000 square foot library to serve the DUMBO, Vinegar Hill, and Farragut Houses communities; and a 9,000 square foot new building at Cadman Plaza West dedicated to STEM education labs administered by the NYC Department of Education and serving students  in Brooklyn’s Community School District 13.

BPL Library officials said $40 million from the sale will go to badly needed repairs at other branches throughout the borough, including Walt Whitman, Pacific, Washington Irving and Sunset Park branches.

But the sale has also brought strong opposition led by a local activist organization Citizens Defending Libraries and WBAI radio journalist Mitchel Cohen. Among their concerns are that the affordable housing will be built offsite and in a different neighborhood, and that the developer will follow-up and do all he says he will do.

In the 3-5 years it will take to complete the project an interim library service will be provided at Our Lady of Lebanon Church, 109 Remsen Street, beginning next week. The interim library will include full library services, after-school programs, 30 laptops for adults and children and other services.

The Park Slope Branch project money comes through the participatory budgeting (PBNYC) process, which local City Councilman Brad Lander (Park Slope, Gowanus, Windsor Terrace, Kensington) has long championed, and is now being utilized in many city council districts around the borough.

In participatory budgeting a city council member puts some of the annual discretionary money to spread around the district into a pot, and constituents in the district vote on the projects they want to be seen done.

In the case of the library, constituents voted to construct a storytelling amphitheater, community gardening space, paths, and planters on the library grounds. Pending approval by the City’s Public Design Commission and Landmarks Preservation Commission, the garden will also be home to a statue of children’s book character Knuffle Bunny. Construction will not affect the building access or operation of the library branch.

“I’m very excited to see work starting on the Park Slope Library storytelling garden, and look forward to adding this sure-to-be-loved space to our already-much-loved library,” said Lander, giving ample credit to the organization, Friends of the Park Slope Library.

“The friend’s group came forward with this fantastic project, a group of volunteer budget delegates lent their support, and neighbors voted in PBNYC to make it a reality. PBNYC brings our communities together, like this project will bring our neighbors together for hands on learning, gardening, and storytelling. I can’t wait to see this project completed and full of families who voted to fund it. Thanks to Brooklyn Public Library for working with our office on this project, to the fantastic Friends of Park Slope Library, and the many volunteers in PBNYC who worked to support this project and bring this great new community space to our neighborhood,” he added.

– Andrea Karshan contributed to this story

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