JP CENTER—The Jamaica Plain Branch Library’s long-awaited expansion and renovation was granted $8.5 million in the new city long- and short-range capital budgets, putting it on track for a new design phase next year and possible completion by the library’s 100th birthday in 2011.
“It’s very good news,” said Don Haber, co-chair of Friends of the Jamaica Plain Branch Library. “It’s the first time there’s been any commitment from the city at all to go forward with a way to fund renovation.”
The earmark came at the last minute, as local City Councilor John Tobin made good on a pledge to withhold his vote on the city budget unless it contained money for the 12 Sedgwick St. library.
“It wasn’t in the budget,” Tobin said in a Gazette interview. “We were told it was going to be in the budget.”
Haber said not only was there no new money, but $500,000 long earmarked for handicapped accessibility improvements had been “reallocated.”
“That was very interesting,” Haber said dryly.
Tobin said his holdout delayed the budget’s approval by a few hours until a chat with Mayor Thomas Menino resulted in the inclusion of the $8.5 million.
It was yet another twist in the politically tortuous attempts to update the small, aging library—the fourth-busiest in the Boston Public Library (BPL) system of 26 neighborhood branches.
The city several years ago budgeted $500,000 to make the library handicapped-accessible. The Friends group proposed a full renovation and expansion to go along with that work.
In 2005, the city and the BPL formed a planning task force of officials and residents, which included Haber, and hired an architect to draw up a master plan. But at a meeting last year to unveil four alternative designs, the BPL suddenly declared planning dead before the designs could be discussed, citing a lack of funds. A BPL study leaked to the Boston Globe earlier that year had suggested that that closing of some branch libraries was planned.
Amid controversy, including a previous budget holdout threat by Tobin, Menino declared the planning alive again. Early this year, the task force issued a final design study.
That study recommended extensive internal redesign and two additions—one on the back of the library, facing Curtis Hall, and one on the west side facing South Street. About half of the 10,200-square-foot library is now available for public use, a figure that would rise to 13,900 square feet under the recommended plan.
The new funding will fund a final, detailed design based on that plan and the construction, Haber said.
The budget for Fiscal Year 2009, which begins a year from now, includes $500,000 for hiring an architect to do the final design. However, the city agreed to issue a request for proposals to find the architect next April, before the fiscal year begins, to speed the process.
The remaining $8 million would go toward construction. Haber said library advocates will keep an eye on that future allocation.
“Like anything, until it actually happens, funds could be reallocated,” Haber said.