JP CENTER—A Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) has finalized an expansion study for the Jamaica Plain Branch Library that includes two additions and extensive reconfiguration, according to Don Haber, co-chair of the CAC and Friends of the JP Branch Library.
The report was finalized before the winter holidays after deliberations that started last February stalled at the end of March, were killed in May, then resumed in August.
According to the report, renovations are needed because the building next to Curtis Hall at 12 Sedgwick St. remains largely unchanged since being built 95 years ago. The central problem is almost one-half of the 10,200-square-foot building is inaccessible for library programming. Overall the library is cramped and somewhat outdated, with no elevators or service to the handicap bathrooms on all floors.
The report proposes the changes will “increase the existing useable 5,000-square-foot library into a building with 13,900 square feet of improved and accessible library space.”
“We’ve been waiting a year-and-a-half to get to this point,” said Haber. “The next step is to get the city and Boston Public Library to move forward to talk to city councilors about funding.”
Proposed additions are a narrow expansion at the rear (north) side of the building and a larger one to the west side, facing South Street.
The plan also proposes to reconfigure the main floor and lower level of the building. The three reading rooms on the main floor would remain largely intact. An extensive reconfiguration of the lower level would include a children’s room (a safety concern at its current location due to its proximity to the main entrance and thoroughfare), multi-purpose rooms and new mechanical equipment. For security and library purposes, the mezzanine will remain inaccessible to the public, but will provide staff with storage space.
Haber said the CAC is in the process of starting to meet with local City Councilor John Tobin to try to get the city started towards putting the project in its capital budget. He said it is time to start planning the budget and to attempt to secure funding.
The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners has a variety of grants and related programs available, like State Aid to Public Libraries or The Public Library Fund.
“We’re just now really exploring what all this is,” said Haber.
Because of the library’s historic qualities, the Massachusetts Historical Council (MHC) has labeled the library “worthy of preservation.” Therefore, the plan is subject to MHC approval. On top of that, a public process is also necessary.
The historical qualities of the library also caused the MHC—in consultation with the Boston Landmarks Commission (BLC), City of Boston Property Construction Management Department (PCMD), and Baker/Wohl Associates (BWA, the architecture firm designing the project)—to impose restrictions on the renovation. Those include that the rooflines, structural integrity and historical character of the building remain.
“I think it’s been a big accomplishment to get the report finished,” said Haber. “I’m hopeful we’ll be able to secure funding. But the city budget is tight.”
The entire expansion study, which included the CAC, Boston Public Library staff, BLC, BWA, MHC, Mayor’s office, and others can be seen online at www.bpl.org. It includes the floor plans, alternative concepts, and the minutes from the meetings that produced the study. First click on neighborhood branches. At the next page select Jamaica Plain. Finally, open the “JP Branch Library Expansion Study.”