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Old Fordham Library project makes gains

More than 800 people gathered at a Shared Faith Action Forum at St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church, 2345 University Avenue, on May 31 to discuss local planning projects, with the old Fordham Library as the first order of business.

With efforts to revitalize the 2556 Bainbridge Avenue building into a mixed-use community center, Sistas and Brothas United, a youth action group tied to the northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, called for capital funding from already supportive politicians.

SBU first inquired about the 27,400 square foot space in 2004 while seeking space for their charter school, the Leadership Institute. The Department of Education quickly denied their request, identifying the library as contaminated.

The building’s remained empty since it closed in 2005.

“It is time to arise and let our youth know that they really matter,” Dr. Fernando Cabrera, Reverend to New Life Outreach International, said. “I say it’s time for the old Fordham Library to be turned into a multi-organizational youth focused facility, instead of sitting as a relic of the past.”

Already receiving support from Borough President Adolfo Carrion, Assemblyman Jose Rivera and Councilman Joel Rivera, among others, SBU co-president Miguel Hernandez said the time is now to utilize the space a community enhancer, rather than deterrent.

“The Bronx is the poorest urban county in the United States. That’s because our resources are not being used the right way,” he explained. “So it’s up to us to do it; it’s up to us to take the community into our own hands.”

SBU is seeking a center that would provide jobs to local residents while also offering recreational space, a community room and art and technology programs to educate and entertain area youth.

According to 2004 Census data, there are more than 40,000 youth in the neighborhoods surrounding the library. All of the current youth providers at maximum capacity, according to SBU, couldn’t cater to even half that amount, leaving more than 20,000 youth with nowhere to go.

“We’ve been living under these conditions for so long already, it’s clear that nobody is doing anything about it so we have to do it because its our future that’s at stake,” SBU youth leader Laura Olivero said.

Though the site would require remediation to remove the Tetrachloroethelyne or PERC, a chemical used as a metal degreaser for dry cleaning, from the soil, the City recently considered using the facility as a new animal shelter.

Still in the talking stages, members of SBU hope a meeting planned for later this month with elected officials will serve as the next stepping-stone to creating their community center.

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