Library Reveals Details and Costs of Upgrade Plan
By ROBIN POGREBIN
The New York Public Library’s revised renovation plan — to upgrade the Mid-Manhattan Library and create more public space in its flagship Fifth Avenue building — is expected to cost about $300 million, according to library officials who outlined new details of the project in interviews.
The anticipated budget matches what the library had originally suggested its previous plan — to insert a circulating branch at its main library at 42nd Street — might cost.
But officials, for the first time, revealed that the original plan, mostly scrapped last month in large part because of questions about the price tag, would actually have cost more than $500 million, according to independent estimates they commissioned last June.
Critics of the original plan had suggested that the price tag would most likely escalate well beyond the original estimates and, as a mayoral candidate, Bill de Blasio was among several officials who called for a more thorough review of the project’s cost.
Library officials are hopeful that Mr. de Blasio, as mayor, will agree that $150 million, already in the city’s executive budget to finance the old plan, can be spent on the new one.
“The administration will remain in close discussions with the library on this project as well as on its other initiatives in support of the mayor’s agenda,” said Marti Adams, a spokeswoman for the mayor. “We are pleased that the library ultimately shared the mayor’s goals in developing its revised plan.”
Anthony W. Marx, the library’s president, said the historic stacks in the main building, whose removal was a disputed element in the original plan designed by the architect Norman Foster, would be kept, but not returned to service as a storage area for books.
The cost of bringing the stacks up to code is projected to be $46 million, $24 million more than it would cost to put the books underground, a sum that Mr. Marx said the library can use “for hiring more librarians and buying more books.” So the shelves will stay empty, and the books will reside in expanded storage space under Bryant Park. “We think that’s the responsible thing to do,” he said.
The library hopes to have the Mid-Manhattan branch, the busiest in the system, completed in four to five years and work on the flagship building — known as the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building — done in three to four without closing the public services of either.
The library has not yet selected an architect for the redesign of Mid-Manhattan or determined the look of that design.
“We want to make it as inspiring a space as we can,” Mr. Marx said, “which it never was.”
The library is likely to work within the existing walls of the building on Fifth Avenue at 40th Street, Mr. Marx said, in large part because that would help keep some floors open while others are under construction. The well-worn space — a former Arnold Constable & Company department store, occupied by the library since 1972 — will need “a complete renovation and replacement of all its mechanical systems,” he added.
At the Schwarzman building, the renovation will convert unused historic rooms and offices into public spaces — creating an “education corridor” on the ground floor, for example, that will hold teacher areas and libraries for children and teenagers.
In keeping with the original plan, the Schwarzman building will absorb and expand the operations of the current Science, Industry and Business Library in the former B. Altman building, on Madison Avenue at 34th Street, which will be sold or leased.
The library is also looking to establish more of a relationship between its two Fifth Avenue locations — with more education functions at Mid-Manhattan and more circulating functions at 42nd Street — creating the sense of a campus.
The Schwarzman building will have four lending collections — for children, teenagers, photographs and business — as well as what Mr. Marx called a “grab and go” space near the 42nd Street entrance, where people can pick up reserved books.
“We are opening more of the research library to New Yorkers who have not had any reason to come or who have not felt welcome in this building,” he said.
As a high school student, Mr. Marx added, “I never felt a reason to come into this building. We would like that to change.”
The renovation will also double the exhibition space off Astor Hall, where the library will showcase some of its treasures, like its copy of the Declaration of Independence handwritten by Thomas Jefferson, with a paragraph on the slave trade edited out.
Aside from the Midtown work, Mr. Marx said the library was spending $177 million to upgrade other buildings in the system, which includes 88 branches in Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island. (Brooklyn and Queens have their own systems.)
The library has already spent $280 million on other branches since 2002 and plans to spend more, Mr. Marx said, noting that a new branch recently opened in the Mariners Harbor section of Staten Island and major renovations were completed at the Stapleton branch there and at the Washington Heights branch in Manhattan.
Together, the two Midtown libraries are being viewed as a hub at which to develop education material, programs, exhibits and services that can be distributed to a wide range of schools and other branches.
“It’s not us vs. them,” Mr. Marx said. “It’s one system meeting the varied learning needs of all New Yorkers.”
One floor of the reconceived building will be devoted to a media and computer lab. The new Mid-Manhattan will have a large adult education center to focus on the needs of service workers with classes in English-language instruction, citizenship and computer training. Extra public space will replace former back offices.
Mid-Manhattan has 1.4 million visitors a year, half of whom come from outside Manhattan, Mr. Marx said, making it “the city’s central circulating library.”
Source: The New York Times