As South End residents who are dedicated to the library branch are crying foul this week for what they define as a snub in this year’s City Budget, officials from the Mayor’s Office and the Boston Public Library said the critical renovation project is still moving forward.
Marleen Neinhuis, president of the Friends of the South End Library (FOSEL), said this week she was shocked when she saw that the $500,000 funding request for public safety improvements was not included in this year’s capital budget.
She said BPL Director David Leonard had promised the money in a meeting not long ago. She said it is a major setback for fixes that include improving conditions in the library caused by homelessness, the opiate epidemic and other problems.
She mentioned that two people have died of overdoses in the library bathroom this year, and the adult computers are located next to the Children’s Area – which complicates things due to adult content being visible to the children and families.
“He said he was going to request $500,000 in the Fiscal Year ’19 budget so that we could proceed with raising money for Phase 2 of our project, a very critical phase for public safety,” she said. “We need that money to raise more private money. People need to see that commitment from the City. If David (Leonard) said this year it is in and it isn’t, then what confidence do we have that it will be in some other year? The mayor knows the issues at the South End branch. He has seen them personally. This would have been an easy ask and it wasn’t asked. It is confusing and it is sad, particularly since we have a mayor so supportive of libraries.”
The library is about ready to embark on Phase 1 of their renovation project, Leonard told the Sun.
They got $130,000 in last year’s budget, and the Friends raised $50,000, making a budget of $180,000 to make improvements to the electrical infrastructure and other such things. That project is imminent.
Phase 2 was to support the public safety improvements and the changes to the layout of the first floor – including a more protected Children’s Area.
The $500,000 budget request was supposed to handle that, along with additional monies raised by the Friends. Additionally, a $100,000 planning study was also to be put in.
Leonard said the planning study made it into the budget, and he said that is mandatory when talking about a large renovation.
“I am pretty happy with the direction we are going,” he said by phone this week. “We have had really good discussion through the course of this budget year as to what should happen next. The Mayor’s proposed budget now at City Council has a $100,000 allocation for the programming study to happen next. Any time you are renovating, you have to start with a programming study, then a cost out for the project, a design part and then the full renovation. I’m pretty encouraged that we have this programming study that can really address the full range of needs.”
Leonard said it has been suggested that because it isn’t in the capital budget, the matter cannot be brought up for another five years. He said that isn’t true.
“We want to use the early action allocation to make some of the improvements,” he said. “We revisit the five-year plan every 12 months. I did see comments that we now won’t get an opportunity to look at this for another five years. That’s not true. We can revisit that every 12 months and can revisit our plans in next year’s budget as well. I really hope the passion and enthusiasm can continue and the next 12 months are about doing this as a partnership between the Library, the mayor and the community.”
Mayor Martin Walsh said he was aware of the budget situation, and he believes the study will help them determine the scope of renovations. He said he is committed to the project.
“As we work together with the community in planning and preparing for the future of the South End Library, I am pleased that we have set aside initial funding this year for a study that will help determine the scope and scale of any future investments,” he said. “I am fully committed to seeing this important project through and the design phase will help best inform our next steps as we continue to move forward.”