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Incline declined: Library honchos won’t build access ramp at historic branch despite having funds to do so, angering locals

Literary twist: Brooklyn Public Library officials plan to sell off the historic Pacific branch building on Fourth Avenue and replace the 1903 structure — put up by steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie — with a new facility inside a planned 32-story skyscraper several blocks away.
Community Newspaper Group / Natalie Musumeci

It’s an uphill battle.

Brooklyn Public Library honchos possess the funds needed to install an access ramp at Boerum Hill’s historic Pacific branch, but will not build one, instead choosing to shelf the project until the book lender gets enough money to perform other upgrades simultaneously, according to a spokeswoman. But some locals said the decision to delay installing an incline that eases entry to the reading room is leading them to stay away.

“I don’t visit the library very often and honestly one of the reasons is because there’s no ramp,” said Boerum Hill resident Ann Jernow, who often travels with her youngster in a stroller. “It would be really nice if our local library was more accessible.”

Climbing a set of stairs in front of the building is currently the only way to enter the 113-year-old library on Fourth Avenue at Pacific Street — Brooklyn’s first to be built using funds donated by steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie.

The Brooklyn Public Library has $3.5 million set aside to create a ramp leading to the Pacific branch and to install a new elevator inside the location. But officials are waiting to begin both improvements until cash for a new boiler and air-conditioning system comes in, because they want to do all the work at once, the book lender’s spokeswoman said.

The library has $10 million in unmet capital needs, according to the rep, who refused to say how long it will take to collect the moolah to make the fixes.

And the reading room’s lack of a ramp doesn’t only affect local stroller-pushers, according to Jernow, who pointed out that it’s impossible for wheelchair-bound residents to access the space.

“It’s difficult for a mom to get a stroller up the stairs, but someone in a wheelchair can’t do that at all,” she said.

The book lender technically is required to build a ramp under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, legislation that demands businesses comply with certain accessibility standards, according to a local advocate.

“It has to be compliant. Even if it’s an older building, they have to look for a way to have a ramp,” said Yesenia Torres, who works for the Brooklyn Center for Independence of Disabled.

But many building owners get away with not building an incline because patrons don’t raise the issue, she said, and usually people must file a lawsuit to get one installed.

There are several types of low-cost ramps that could be erected temporarily while library honchos wait to put in a permanent one, according to Torres, who said the easiest way to spur action is for locals to demand that an incline be built.

It’s not the first time financial uncertainty has plagued the Brooklyn Public Library’s Pacific Branch. In February 2013, honchos tried to hawk the building to evade $9 million in repairs, but took it off the market months later after locals protested the sale.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill

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