On Monday afternoon, elected officials joined library leaders, community members and students from PS 34 to break ground on the project at 107 Norman Avenue. The $15 million facility, which includes a $5 million grant from the Greenpoint Community Environmental Fund (GCEF), is expected to open by mid-2019.
Linda Johnson, president and CEO of Brooklyn Public Library, said a library is no longer just a place to check out books. Parents bring their children for story time, members of the Polish community gather for cultural programs, and environmental activists convene to help the neighborhood thrive.
“Our local libraries are at their very best when they reflect the neighborhoods around them,” she said. “Today, we honor the legacy of the library and we begin a new chapter.”
She noted that a library has existed in Greenpoint for 111 years. The site that was just demolished was erected in the 1970s, but had not received a major overhaul in decades.
“The one-story library was outdated and too small to meet the many diverse needs of this community,” Johnson said.
Last year, more than 17,000 people attended programs at the branch. However, the only meeting room in the space was designed to fit only 25 people.
The new library will be 14,000 square feet, double the size of the old library. Library patrons will be able to work, study and meet in both indoor and outdoor spaces, including a green roof that will be used for gardening and educational programs.
The building will also have a lighter impact on the environment and cost less to maintain. Johnson said the facility will reduce energy use by 80 percent and water use by 50,000 gallons.
Inside the facility, collaborating with local organizations, the library is expected to host 300 hours of programs specifically related to the environment. Librarians and community partners will create exhibitions documenting the history and resiliency of the neighborhood.
“Those green features will not only make the building more efficient,” Johnson said, “the solar panels, rain gardens and cisterns will be used as teaching tools for STEM and other educational programs, something that simply would not have been possible in the old building.
“In short, this place will be the place for environmental stewardship in Brooklyn,” she added.
GCEF was created using money obtained through a state settlement with Exxon Mobil over its massive Greenpoint oil spill. The goal of the fund, according to Peter Washburn from the state Attorney General’s office, was to “make investments in Greenpoint’s future.”
The program has now invested more than $54 million into 40 projects in the neighborhood. The $5 million contribution to the Greenpoint Library was “clearly one of our best decisions,” Washburn said.
“The environmental education center will create an important new resource for environmental awareness, education and advocacy in this community,” he said.
Assemblyman Joseph Lentol added that he was glad to share the moment with a few dozen students from PS 34, which is just across the street from the library. Many students use the library after school to read and do homework.
“These are the kids who are going to protect our environment in the future,” Lentol said. “They’re going to be learning at this library.”
Noting that Greenpoint has had its share of deterioration, Lentol said the neighborhood still has a lot of work to do to improve the environment. It will depend on the future leaders to carry that task forward.
Going back into the history of the library, Councilman Stephen Levin said the site used to be home to a Carnegie library branch, larger and more majestic than its successor. But due to disrepair and neglect, officials decided to tear it down.
“It was replaced by a nice library, no complaints about the previous building,” Levin said. “But it was not everything that it could be.”
Now that a new and larger facility will be built, Levin said he’s looking forward to bringing his eight-month-old daughter to the library when she enters school.
“I couldn’t be more excited,” he said.