Turning the page on the Brooklyn Heights library

Home away from home: The Brooklyn Public Library’s Brooklyn Heights branch is frequented by many who use it to study or read. Critics of the plan to construct a new building fear that the temporary space will not have room for its patrons.
CNG / Danielle Furfaro

The Brooklyn Public Library wants to cut off its nose to save its face.

The library plans to demolish its Brooklyn Heights branch to avoid shelling out $9 million in crucial repairs.

Library trustees decided this week to look for real estate developers who would be interested in purchasing the development rights for the 25,000-square-foot lot and allowing the library to put a branch on the ground floor.

The Brooklyn Public Library is currently facing a potential $9 million bill to repair the branch’s broken air conditioning system. Additionally, the aging building is in need of a renovation, which would cost a few more million.

If the library can get someone else to build on the site, there would be no need to go through with repairs.

“Not only do we get to get out from under the $9 million, but we can deliver a brand-new, state-of-the-art library for no cost to the Brooklyn Public Library system,” said Josh Nachowitz, vice president of government and community relations at the Brooklyn Public Library.

The Cadman Plaza building also houses the Brooklyn Public Library’s Business Library. The trustees plan to move that to the main branch in Prospect Heights.

Last summer it became apparent just how badly the current Brooklyn Heights branch building, built in 1962, needed repairs. The air conditioning system went kaput, and the staff had to close the sweltering facility on at least 30 days.

“Last summer, a lot of senior citizens came in here complaining that they couldn’t go to the library,” said Kenn Lowy, owner of the Brooklyn Heights Cinema. “It obviously needs a lot of help, so if they can make a plan to fix it, that’s great.”

Branch library manager Uldis Skrodelis first started working at the Brooklyn Heights branch in 1977, when the basement was stocked as a fallout shelter, complete with barrels of food and other provisions. He said the current building is getting more dilapidated by the day and that a new one is necessary.

“Just the other day, a water pipe in the ceiling burst,” said Skrodelis. “There’s only so much money you can put into an old place. Why would we spend all that money to put a brand new air-conditioning system into a 50-year-old building?”

The lot is zoned R10, which is the highest density residential zoning in the city. So, there is the potential to build as large as the 19-story One Pierrepont Plaza high-rise a couple of doors down.

“I’m assuming the developer would want to build as much as possible, and probably residential,” said Nachowitz.

Lowy lamented the thought of more condos coming into the neighborhood.

“When all you do is build condos, all you do is build a wall and say you don’t want a certain type of person to be here,” said Lowy. “What we do need are more rentals.”

Even though the city owns the building and lets the library use it for free — as is does with most of the Brooklyn Public Library branch locations — Nachowitz said the library will get the profits from any sale.

It will take several more months to decide on a developer and a plan. In the meantime, it’s going to get hot again in a couple of months, so the library is working with the Brooklyn Library Guild, which represents the staff, to figure out a plan for this summer. And when the building is finally demolished, the library will find a temporary storefront in Brooklyn Heights or bring in a trailer to use as a temporary branch.

Judy Stanton, executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association, said she is concerned that the new library will be smaller. She is also concerned that the temporary library space will not have the services patrons have come to expect.

“A lot of people go to this library and want to use computers or study in the library in the summer,” said Stanton. “They don’t want to have to sit in the Starbucks.”

Reach reporter Danielle Furfaro at dfurfaro@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2511. Follow her at twitter.com/DanielleFurfaro.

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