Square book plan shelved/Library for Huntington Free Library site in doubt

Square book plan shelved/Library for Huntington Free Library site in doubt
A planned deal having the city purchase land and a building owned by the Huntington Free Library at 5 Westchester Square, pictured here, looks like it may not materialize if the Huntington decides to entertain other offers amid delays.

The plan to build a new public library in Westchester Square may be DOA.

The trust that runs the Huntington Free Library in Westchester Square was informed on Monday, March 4 by the city that there has been additional delays in finalizing the deal that would have had the city purchase 5 Westchester Square in order to turn it over to the New York Public Library to construct a new east Bronx library center.

The new glass-cladded library would have been sited adjacent to Huntington Free Library’s historic reading room and museum at 9 Westchester Square.

The city recently informed HFL that due to a ‘huge financial shortfall’ the library doesn’t want to move forward with the land purchase until the funding situation is resolved, said Tom Casey, HFL president.

The HFL has been in contract with the city for about three years after a its board voted in February 2016 to sell the property to the city even though developers were offering more money for the site, said Casey.

“We had received higher offers from commercial developers, but we chose to sell to the NYPL,” said Casey. “We felt that we wanted to be good neighbors and that it might make sense to have (another) library as a neighbor as opposed to a high rise.”

Plans for the modern library were presented to Community Board 10 in 2014, and according to a previous Bronx Times article, funding was allocated by three elected officials: $12 million in NYC City Council funds secured by former Councilman James Vacca, $1 million from Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and $2 million from former Mayor Bloomberg.

Initial estimates from 2014 projected the cost to be about $13 million and architectural firm Snøhetta designed a modern 12,000-square-foot library, according to that article.

Casey said that HFL signed a non-legally binding memorandum of understanding concerning the purchase of its former annex next to their 19th century building for $930,000.

The plan, which had been discussed for about a decade, would have complemented the existing library.

While the building sat empty, the HFL continued to incur costs to maintain the property.

Now the organization may need to entertain other offers for the site, said Casey.

“Sadly, the Huntington has expended over $150,000 preparing for the sale, (and this has) gone on for over nine years,” stated Casey.

The costs included building permits, and the cost to separate the water, electrical and gas lines the building at 9 Westchester Square shared with the proposed library property.

They are also paying insurance costs for the roughly 10,000 square foot building and the land next door.

Additionally, the combined heating plant that feed 5 and 9 Westchester Square had to be separated, said Casey.

They also paid to have the existing one tax lot split into two lots.

A NYPL spokeswoman stated that the organization is still “anxious to move (the) project forward.”

“The New York City Department of Design and Construction has identified a substantial shortfall and we have requested those funds from the City of New York before proceeding,” stated the NYPL spokeswoman. “We are awaiting a response.”

A NYPL source said that the plans hadn’t fallen through.

As of press time, a DDC spokesman did not have information as to how large the shortfall.

However, as far as the HFL goes, the organization, which never got a security deposit from the city for the purchase, will pursue remedies to recover all monies it has expended (if the deal doesn’t materialize), Casey said.

Councilman Mark Gjonaj said he was told that the project was fully funded and he was surprised to hear otherwise.

“We understand, to our surprise, that there is a viable city funding issue,” said Gjonaj, adding “We are looking into what is required for a next step.”

Gjonaj remained optimistic about bringing the library project to fruition.

“The project is still at this point a viable project,” said Gjonaj. “We just have to make sure this remains a priority for this upcoming city budget and with the (NYPL), and this project begins.”

The new library was touted in 2014 and 2015 as a catalyst for the ongoing revitalization of the square, according to previously published Bronx Times reports.

The Westchester Square Business Improvement District’s chairman, John Bonizio, said that he isn’t surprised that the city ran over budget on the project because based on his observations, it does so on a lot of projects.

Bonizio called the lack of progress “anti-community”.

The physical plant of the current Westchester Square branch isn’t in great shape, said Sandi Lusk, Westchester Square Zerega Improvement Organization leader, adding that a library in the heart of the square could be a great thing for the community.

She noted that the original plans called not just for another branch to replace the one on Glebe Avenue, but a larger ‘library center,’ similar to the main borough branch, with a larger amount of programming and additional research capabilities than the current branch.

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

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