Huntington Library inches closer to becoming public space

Deciding the fate of the Huntington Free Library’s 1930 building in Westchester Square remains a work in progress, but at last, those involved seem to be coming closer an agreement on what to do with the large space that is attached to the smaller private library.

The Huntington Free Library’s Westchester Square campus includes both the 1880/1890 building familiar to local residents, and the newer 1930 building which has been the subject of recent interest on how better to use the space.

There are two options being discussed by members of Community Board 10, the Bronx Clergy Task Force, the Westchester Square Merchant’s Association, and the Huntington Library board itself. One idea, being championed by Councilman James Vacca, among others, is to utilize the space as a public library. The old, historical part of the library, which has been in place since 1880, would remain untouched and continue its current services. The 1930 building, meanwhile, would become a public space. Greg Perry, newly elected president of the merchant’s association, says that making it a public space would be the best thing for the community.

“As a public library, it would be phenomenal,” said Perry. “You got Lehman High School right down the street, with 5,000 plus students, I’m quite sure they would take advantage of that. Plus, you have adults that would use it.”

The other idea, less popular, comes from the Bronx Clergy Task Force. They would like to make the buiding a hub for nonprofit agencies. A series of nonprofits would take up residence inside and offer various services. “Since funding is low, what many nonprofits have proposed is to piggyback their services all in one location,” explains Perry. “The key for us is to find out what type of services would be offered, if this plan is a serious one.”

Vacca says that it is not a serious one, in the eyes of most of those involved. “I’ve heard about the nonprofit idea, but I don’t know if it has any legs at all.” Vacca says he is proceeding with a plan to move the Westchester Square Library, currently operational, into the Huntington Library 1930 space. “It’s not going to happen overnight, because the building needs major work and we need major money,” he cautions.

“People overall are really more in favor of the library, because it would serve a larger population,” says Perry. But he also points out that they would want a public library to have access to the Internet, reading rooms, and of course many, many books, and this creates — what else? — a need for money. “What concerns us is the recent cut in funding for programs like this.”

Edward A. Morgan, president of the Huntington Free Library, said that the library is “considering several alternatives for improvements at the 1930 building location, more than one of which have indicated some promise. Some could involve other parties, with whom we shall seek to deal fairly, but none are final at this time.”

Those who do support turning the 1930 building into a public library are worried that after deciding on this purpose for the space, and moving on with a building plan, the city might deny crucial funding. “Believe me,” declares Vacca, “I’m not committing myself to a new library that won’t be staffed. If this library gets built at the Square, it will be a working library and it will have staff members.”

The next meeting to discuss this issue will not come until after summer ends.

Reach Daniel Roberts at (718) 742-3383.

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