Vol. 12, No. 12 June 17 - 30, 1999



     
 

Borough Waits (and Waits) for New Main Library

By JON MINNERS

Fordham Road landed the borough's first Starbucks last month, but the Bronx still does not have a central library worthy of its population of 1.2 million people.

That could change. There is $15 million in the budget for the borough's current central library on Bainbridge Avenue near Fordham Road to expand to larger quarters, but officials are struggling to locate a proper home for the facility.

Library workers and patrons say the need for roomier digs is obvious.

Nick Tucker, a Fordham branch staffer, points to the Mid-Manhattan branch, the central library for that borough.

"When you compare the equivalent to our library, in Manhattan, you'll see how huge it is compared to ours," he said. "They are huge and they are still crowded."

While Mid-Manhattan takes up six floors of space, the Fordham branch library only has three, one for reference, one main section and a children's library. Even the outerboroughs are way ahead of the Bronx. The Queens main branch library is 217,000 square feet, and the Brooklyn main branch library is 300,000 square feet. But the Fordham branch measures a measly 27,500 square feet.

Hong Yao, the supervising librarian at Fordham agrees with Tucker's assessment of the situation. "We look like a regular branch library," she said.

Many months ago, the library had been included in a proposed retail development project that would have been built near the Sears department store in Fordham Plaza. The project was then known as the Fordham Center, and it would have put the main library right in the middle of a busy shopping district.

Councilman Aldolfo Carrion said the building would have been designed in a Greco Roman kind of style and would have been set back from Fordham Road between Sears and One Fordham Plaza on a pedestrian plaza.

According to James Rausse, a Norwood resident and an ex-intern with the city Department of City Planning, the plan fell through due to problems with the MTA, which owned the site where the library was to be built. The two sides could not work out an agreement on how the site would be constructed. Carrion also said the cost of constructing a new building was beyond what the budget would allow.

Still, that site is considered to have been the best site for the library. "I think that the ideal place for a Bronx central branch would have been in the future redeveloped Fordham Plaza," Carrion said. "In an ideal world, that's the place for the Bronx central branch."

As Carrion conceded, we don't live in an ideal world, and it now seems to be taking forever for a site to be found.

Now that Con Edison is selling its stately facility on Kingsbridge Road, however, there is talk that a deal could be in the works, though the library is in competition with several other private and public interests, particularly the Board of Education.

"Short of [the Fordham Plaza project], I think the Con Edison building would suffice," Carrion stated.

Mary Elizabeth Wendt, associate director for branch libraries at the New York Library would not confirm her agency's interest in the Con Ed building. "We are not at liberty to give that information out," she said, adding, "Since we don't have a site yet, it may take a number of years to find one. Once we get a site, it may take a number of years more to complete the site."

But the needs are great right now. Patrons regularly wait to use the computers and get in line for classes and services that are in greater and greater demand. Yao said that immigrants look to the library as they make an effort to learn the English language and fit in amongst the community, and that patrons young and old are eager to take advantage of the literacy courses the library offers.

Doubling as a community center, the library offers career and educational counseling, services for the disabled and story hours for children to a growing clientele that it struggles to accommodate.

"I really hope in the next two to three years we'll have a real library for the people to go to, because this borough is revitalizing," Rausse said.

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