$4.2 million set aside to repair four aging borough libraries

“Our libraries are more than a repository of books.They are really a hub of services and support for the local community,” -- Councilman Torres

Four borough library branches are getting additional funding to meet critical needs thanks to City Council budget allocations.

New York Public Library branches in the central-west Bronx are getting a total of $4.2 million in funding, including $50,000 each for technology upgrades and millions for a new roof and exterior renovations at two of the locations.

The Belmont Library and Enrico Fermi Cultural Center on East 186th Street has been allocated $2.5 million for an exterior rehabilitation to stop water from entering the building as well upgrades to the building’s HVAC system.

The Grand Concourse branch on East 173rd Street has been allocated $1.5 million dollars for a new roof, which hasn’t been replaced since 1959, according to NYPL officials.

The allocation were part of funding secured by Councilman Ritchie Torres for libraries specifically in his district, with the Tremont branch and Bronx Library Center also receiving the technology grants.

“I think the public library system, especially in the Bronx, has been chronically neglected and plagued by decades of disinvestment,” said Torres. “They have gone decades without reliable roofs, brick repairs, elevators and accessibility.”

The councilman said that he recognizes that the libraries are an indispensable resource for the borough.

“Our libraries are more than a repository of books,” said the councilman. “They are really a hub of services and support for the local community, serving as a setting for English language learners [and] early childhood education.”

The four libraries in Torres’ district collectively receive nearly a million visits per year, a circulation of 650,000 books and in a recent year held 7,300 program sessions for 160,000 individuals, said the councilman.

“The impact for these four libraries alone have on the Bronx community is staggering,” said Torres. “I am proud that I was able to secure more funding in the current budget cycle than any other elected official in the Bronx.”

The whole community has a vested interest in insuring that the libraries are in good repair, Torres said.

The NYC Department of Design and Construction will administer the funding and steward the work, said the councilman.

Water leaks have been long-standing problems at the Belmont and Grand Concourse branches, according to both branch managers.

At Belmont, where work is currently also underway on repairing the roof as part of a separate project, repairs to the exterior of the building are also needed to make sure water leaks don’t damage books, said manager Ignayra Lopez.

“We have been having leaks, especially in our Italian book section,” said Lopez, who indicated the duration and frequency of the water leaks had increased over time until something had to be done.

The $50,000 technology grant the library will receive will be used to purchase new computers; especially for the Young Adult section so youths can do their homework and work on college applications, said the branch manager.

“People depend on this library,” said Deborah Allman Grand Concourse branch manager.

For example, she noted that the relatively small branch sometimes draws over 40 children to their library story times.

Reach Reporter Patrick Rocchio at (718) 260–4597. E-mail him at procchio@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @patrickfrocchio.

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