The Brooklyn Public Library has chosen the landmarked courthouse, 4201 Fourth Avenue, where Community Board 7 is located, as an interim library, while the Sunset Park Library is closed for expansion and the construction of affordable housing at the site.
“One of the big concerns that we’ve heard over the past year is when the library gets torn down for the new building to go up, what are those thousands of patrons who use that library going to do,” explained BPL Executive Vice President for External Affairs David Woloch during a meeting at CB 7 on Monday, May 9 with housing partner, the Fifth Avenue Committee (FAC). “We made a commitment from the beginning that we would provide interim library service which is something we don’t normally do for construction projects. We found a location. It’s one you’re all familiar with. It’s this building.”
According to Woloch, the BPL has received a commitment from the NYPD, which will provide a minimum 5,000 square feet, with the potential for more, from space used on the first floor for licensing application processing.
“From our vantage point, and hopefully from the community’s vantage point, it’s a terrific location,” he continued. “To be here on Fourth Avenue, not too far from where the branch is, in a building that’s already serving a public purpose is about as good as it could get for us.”
Some Sunset residents and board members were happy with the interim location.
“I like public usage of this space. The more we can make this building open to the public, the better,” CB 7 District Manager Jeremy Laufer told this paper. “It’s close to the subway and it’s a big building. There are some issues that need to be resolved such as accessibility, but I’m sure those are just minor issues.”
“It’s perfect. It’s an ideal spot for the library,” said Naila Rosario of the BPL.
President of Village of Sunset Park Ray Acevedo was also pleased with the move, but hopes there’s more to come for the community. “As a whole, the courthouse is a good place for an interim library,” he said. “I wish that they would take the second floor so instead of losing so much square footage, we could have the same or a little more than the original since we have such a high circulation and increasing.”
Woloch and FAC Director of Housing Jay Marcus also discussed revisions of the plans at the library site, such as providing more space there, as well as units that accommodate families.
“When we first started talking about this project, we proposed to go from 12,000 square feet to 17,000 square feet,” Woloch said. “We came to the conclusion that there was a way for us to make the library bigger but still keep it financially viable. We are now shy of 21,000 square feet. This branch would be about the sixth biggest branch in the system.”
The housing has also morphed. “This project has changed because of what we heard from the community board,” said Marcus. “When we came in it was 60 units, with a lot more one bedrooms, but we heard from you the need for families, and made it so that half the units are two and three bedrooms,” he said. “It made it more difficult financially to put together but also made it a better project.”
Fifty percent of the units will be reserved for residents of the community board.
However, not all Sunset residents are thrilled with the project that is slated to be completed in 2019. “What this community needs is to be accountable to our children and families, and the future of this neighborhood,” said Maria Roca, founder of Friends of Sunset Park. “This entire property should serve the educational needs of this community from the basement to the eighth floor, and not include any type of housing. It should be an educational complex.”
Councilmember Carlos Menchaca contended that the need for both libraries and affordable housing in Sunset is strong. “We need a new library. Period. We’re going to get a new library,” he said. “Affordable housing is something we need in this community like nothing else except for schools. I’m here as a representative to say we’re going to keep you accountable for all the things you say that you’re going to do.”
The next step is public review of the project. The interim library is currently scheduled to open in spring, 2017.