By Seth Daniel
The South End Public Library has been an outpost for families and programming – and even neighborhood meetings for many years – but as the homelessness and addiction problems have grown in the neighborhood it has also become a hangout for those living on the street, and those involved with the Library are hoping a $132,000 budget item will survive so that “urgent” changes can be made to rearrange the library in order to deal with that situation.
Mayor Martin Walsh included a $132,000 investment to do an interior reconfiguration project in the Library in his Capital Plan proposal submitted to the City Council last Thursday, April 13. According to Marleen Neinhuis, president of the Friends of the South End Library (FOSEL), those potential dollars – if approved by the Council – will do more than just a spiffy paint job or a some new chairs.
In fact, they will go a long way to protecting children from a growing population of homeless and drug addicted individuals that use the library in the daytime.
“This is an urgent situation,” she said. “The Library has slowly become a homeless shelter. For the homeless, libraries are a godsend and they have as much right to use it as anyone else, but if they overwhelm the library, other people will feel there isn’t a place for them too. Many of those that come have addiction issues and mental health issues. There are a number of people who use the computers and it is right on the Children’s area and some of the material on the computer can be seen by the children. In addition, many of the children who come to the Library in the afternoon are unaccompanied by an adult. It’s a very volatile situation.”
For quite some time, the Library has developed a situation where adults on the computers create uncomfortable situations for parents in the Children’s Room right next to the computers. Due to Free Speech issues, the Library cannot tell adults not to access content on the computers. For a library built in 1971, and not really renovated since, the old setup isn’t applicable in the modern world.
That’s why Neinhuis said the budget item is a crucial first phase in correcting a dangerous situation before trying to get further into the Capital Plan to complete future phases of what she said is a five-phase renovation project.
“I say it’s an urgent situation because this first phase is something we should not wait a long time for to make these changes,” she said. “We want to completely open up everything and get clear sightless for the staff. Right now it’s so cluttered with stacks of books and other items…We want to put the computers on the back wall and turn what is now the computers under the stairs into a Teen Center. It will be a cozy place and be a buffer between the Children’s Room and the adult area. Hopefully, we can also be able to move the Circulation Desk to the center of the entire first floor. That would open up the whole front area for conference rooms and sitting areas.”
The budget item will, first, be used for a programming study costing $50,000.
Once that’s completed, the rest of the money would be used to completely re-wire the building and bring in telecommunications upgrades. Other monies would be used to upgrade carpets, to paint and to complete the interior reconfiguration.
If approved in the July 1 budget, Neinhuis said Library Director David Leonard has said the study could be completed by the fall, with renovations perhaps taking place early in 2018.
Neinhuis said they eventually want to expand the second floor out towards Tremont Street to get more programming space. As it is now, the expertly programmed library events are jam packed with adults, children and young people. However, she said it’s hard to believe, but the building is part of a unique architectural style that is protected.
“The building is a sample of an architect that became quite important,” she said. “It is one of the few examples and so it is what we have to work with.”
She said another piece of the budget puzzle is another item marked for Library Park, which was in last year’s budget. However, due to jurisdictional issues, those renovations haven’t taken place. She said they have a meeting in May to try to resolve that situation.