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In a bind: Sunset Parkers fear library redev would leave them with crummy interim book-lender

For the love of the library: Chris Robles, Ray Acevedo, and Richard Villar stand in front of the Sunset Park Library, which the Fifth Avenue Committee and Brooklyn Public Library plan to replace with a mixed-housing and library building. The trio want to see it replaced with a standalone, updated library instead.
Photo by Georgine Benvenuto

A plan to replace the decrepit Sunset Park library with apartments and a library on the bottom should be stopped in its tracks until developers hash out plans for a temporary library, bookworms warned this week.

Residents fear a plan to sell the property the library sits on, tear down the structure, and replace it with an apartment building with a library on the lower levels will leave them without a decent place to borrow books during construction — despite the fact the Brooklyn Public Library intends to lend books from a undisclosed temporary location.

“What does that mean, a trailer in front of the library?” Chris Robles of community group Village of Sunset Park. “Is it going to be comparable to what we have? Will it accommodate the community like the one we have now?”

Officials couldn’t say, but they insist the library needs a makeover and the only way to finance it is by selling the land it stands on.

The existing library building was built in the 1970s, and its age is showing — it needs a new boiler and roof repairs, and the library system replaced an air-conditioning system that broke last summer with noisy temporary units that do not properly cool the building, patrons said.

There’s no question Sunset Park needs a library — just not one that’s part of a housing development, because that would not leave any room for the library to add facilities as the community grows, Robles said.

“We want a new library, period,” he said. “We’re going to need the ability to grow the library, once it’s in this building, we are no longer able to expand it. We want more flexible use of the land.”But library officials say the borough system is dead broke and cannot afford to build a new library without the Fifth Avenue Committee’s help. The committee plans to buy library at Fourth Avenue and 51st Street from the city, replacing it with an eight-story building and setting aside the basement, first floor, and parts of the second floor for a new book-lending outfit that officials say will be twice the size of the existing facility.

The rest of the building would consist of 49 apartments with monthly rents ranging from $480 to $1685, depending on the number of bedrooms. The committee plans to set aside half of those units for Community Board 7 residents and reserve nine units for domestic violence victims, according to information from the committee.

The developers would foot the construction cost, but the library system needs $10 million to outfit it with books and computers — that’s half the cost to build and outfit a new standalone branch, a library spokeswoman said.

The Brooklyn Heights branch’s controversial pending sale would contribute $8 million, and the library system would kick in the other $2 million, according to committee documents.

The Brooklyn Public Library and Fifth Avenue Committee will present their plan at a public forum at the Sunset Park Recreational Center on Seventh Avenue between 43rd and 44th Streets at 6:30 pm on Dec. 1.

Reach reporter Dennis Lynch at (718) 260–2508 or e-mail him at dlynch@cnglocal.com.

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