Next chapter: BPL invests millions in modern makeover of Central Library

Next chapter: BPL invests millions in modern makeover of Central Library
Brooklyn Public Library

It’s a Major improvement!

Brooklyn Public Library bigwigs are kicking-off a series of multi-million dollar changes to the system’s aging Central branch with the construction of a new lobby space named for one of the borough’s most prestigious former pols — and librarians.

The welcome center planned for the Prospect Heights book lender will honor the late Congressman Major Owens, who rose to represent a swath of central Brooklyn after he worked within the local library system, according to one of its executives.

“He was the only librarian in congress and where did he work? Brooklyn Public Library,” said David Woloch, the system’s executive vice president of external affairs.

Workers will completely reconfigure the Central branch’s current lobby area in order to build the Major Owens Welcome Center, which will come as part of a job to make much-needed upgrades to the facility’s elevators, ventilation system, bathrooms, and outdoor front plaza. The $35-million makeover — which will also include the construction of a business center on the library’s second floor — will begin in April, and marks the first of four phases of a larger reading-room renovation with a total price tag of $135 million.

The lobby transformation will include relocating the branch’s New York City–identification-card and passport-service centers to a larger space on the first floor of the building’s Flatbush Wing, which runs along Flatbush Avenue, to make way for the welcome center.

Bumping the administrative offices will also allow librarians to bring the branch’s “popular” section closer to the building’s entrance, according to Woloch, who said the now video- and newspaper-heavy division will boast a wider selection of newly released books after it moves from its current second-floor spot.

“We envision having a much more vibrant space that will revolve around books,” he said.

The first set of renovations is expected to conclude sometime in 2020, and although portions of the library will close to patrons to accommodate the repairs, the branch itself will remain open throughout the ongoing job, according to Woloch.

And phase one is the only fully funded portion of the massive makeover — thanks to contributions from the state, Assemblyman Walter Mosely (D–Prospect Heights), and Borough President Adams — according to the executive, who said he and his colleagues are hard at work securing public and private money to foot the remaining $100-million tab.

Some of that cash, once raised, will go towards building a space for teenage bookworms too old for the branch’s existing Youth Wing along Eastern Parkway, but too young to appreciate the library’s more mature offerings, Woloch said.

“What libraries around the country have found is you need to give teens their own space,” he said. “They don’t want to be around their younger siblings.”

Officials will conduct outreach among the borough’s notoriously picky adolescents to develop the teen section as part of phase two of the larger renovation, which also calls for restoring some under-utilized areas of the 77-year-old building — 60 percent of which is off-limits to the public — in order to reorganize the branch to better serve local readers, Woloch said.

“There’s an argument to be made that the way we have it setup now doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” he said.

Other far-off changes in store for the Central branch include opening up a new basement floor and building a landscaped deck over the book lender’s back lot that provides direct paths to the nearby Mount Prospect park and Brooklyn Botanical Garden. But bigwigs are shelving those less utilitarian aspects of what Woloch said is likely a decade-long project till later — and for good reason.

“Our hope is the possibilities of the later phases generate excitement,” Woloch said. “And we hope that enthusiasm, down the road, will lead to the availability of more funding.”

And Brooklyn Public Library’s leaders are not the only officials working to commemorate Owens in his home borough. A contingent of pols including New York Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand along with Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, who took over his seat, introduced legislation in Washington, DC, earlier this month to name a Crown Heights post office after the deceased pol — who famously lauded his district in a now-classic 2005 interview with Stephen Colbert on the “Colbert Report.”

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.
Legacy lives: Major Owens.
Photo by Gregory P. Mango