By Matthew Taub
Special to Brooklyn Daily Eagle from Brooklyn Brief
A persistent shortfall in funding has curtailed the potential of the Pacific Street Library, where entrances do not accommodate those with disabilities, extra rooms on higher floors remain closed off due to a lack of staffing and infrastructural problems persist, officials say.
“In a variety of ways, this could be a really great library,” said David Woloch, executive vice president of the Brooklyn Public Library. “That’s why the community, I think, is so impassioned about this space. There’s something really charming about this building.”
But Woloch said that just getting the 1903 Carnegie up to code with the Americans with Disabilities act is a challenge. A set of forbidding steps meets visitors at the entrance, and with no ramps in sight, some are simply unable to enter. Even more unwieldy staircases dominate the building’s interior, including those leading to the bathrooms downstairs, making the layout less than ideal.
The first floor could also use a facelift.
“Ideally, we’d like to change the layout. It’s tight down here,” Woloch said, referring to the main area just past the entrance, which contains a hodgepodge of computer terminals, bookshelves and quiet conversations interfering with those attempting to concentrate on reading.
And then there is the matter of not having enough hands on deck.
“From a staffing perspective, we just don’t have enough people working here to keep additional rooms open,” Woloch explained. Additional spaces on the second floor and basement, while not without their needed repairs, are unused, primarily because no one is available to supervise.
Josh Nachowitz, vice president of BPL’s Government Relations, agrees about the issues the library faces.
“In addition to basic infrastructure repairs like new roofing, new floors, new lighting and a desperately-needed HVAC revamping, there’s the need to make it ADA-compliant,” Nachowitz said. “With a building this old, it’s more difficult.”
The solution would involve building a free-standing “elevator tower,” Nachowitz explained. Like the ones in subway stations, the tower would come at an enormous expense. But the benefits would be immediate, allowing access to a grand room on the second floor, where stacks could also be relocated and allow more room for a tranquil environment below.
The second floor, too, is in need of basic repairs. Windows — currently cracked and often sealed by tarp and tape where they would otherwise be open to the elements — are in dire need of replacement.
“Ventilation is a huge problem,” Nachowitz said. “Up here, it’s cool, but you can see what we’re doing to plug leaks. Downstairs, we’ve installed massive vents that are extremely loud, and powerful if you’re close to them, which is uncomfortable, but ironically still not enough to cool the entire room.” Discoloration from water damage near these vents is also apparent.
Jason Douglas, the Regional Manager for the BPL’s northwest branches, mentioned how the “children’s room” was not only cramped, but unsuitable for youngsters.
“We have bookshelves in this room that rise far higher than any child could reach,” Douglas said. Still, an overflow of books sits in an extra cart, in front of the only two computer terminals available, stashed in the corner. “We don’t have the right shelf space, both in height and width, to do the right thing.”
Douglas mentioned how extra office space on the second floor could be willingly given up by the library’s staff to make room for accommodations, but the same issues prevent it.
“We have space upstairs, but there’s no staff to watch over people up there,” Douglas said. “What is someone falls on the stairs? What if an elderly person is on the second floor, and they need to use the bathroom, which is all the way down in the basement? It doesn’t work.”
System-wide, the Brooklyn Public Library currently reports a $300 million shortfall for necessary repair work. Of the needed funding, only $17 million was provided in the most recent budget allocation. The Pacific Branch in particular needs approximately $10 million in repairs.
“In previous decades, I don’t believe we were vocal enough in getting the funding we needed,” Woloch said. Additionally, those figures are separate from the amount sought to merely operate the facilities with sufficient staffing.
“A consortium of the Brooklyn, Queens and New York Public Libraries asked for an additional $65 million this year in operating expenses, and we were given $10 million for all three systems. That’s $2.8 million more than last year for Brooklyn.”
A few other budgetary quirks, like special allocations from city council delegations, have not been enough to close the gap. And a previous plan — involving selling the library and transferring operations to a new development called BAM South several blocks away —fell through after community opposition.