JP Branch Library gets hot, cold and wet

November 30, 2007
By

JOHN RUCH

JP CENTER—The Jamaica Plain Branch Library was forced to close briefly this month when its heating system failed—just one case of conditions that patrons say leave them freezing, boiling or wet in the aging building.

“It is unacceptable that librarians should be expected to go into a facility so cold that your teeth chatter or so hot you’re going to pass out,” said Sam Sherwood, a JP resident and frequent library patron.

“If you’re going to have the building open, you do have to have heat,” said Don Haber, co-chair of Friends of the Jamaica Plain Branch Library.

The library at 12 Sedgwick St. is slated for major renovation and expansion, but that is years away. Library advocates are hoping for more attention on short-term conditions in the meantime.

The backdrop for the discussion is a leadership change at the Boston Public Library (BPL), which reportedly will result in an increased focus on the neighborhood branch libraries.

The JP Branch Library shut down for part of a day earlier this month so the heating system could be fixed, according to BPL spokesperson Mary Bender. She noted that the heating and air conditioning system will be reviewed as part of the eventual renovations.

But the library was cold for more than one day. On a Gazette visit to the library around the time of the repair, this reporter found the building uncomfortably cold even while wearing a coat.

Other parts of the building reportedly were blazing hot.

“The librarian workspace got so hot, they had to open the windows, and it was still unbearably hot,” Sherwood said. Heat was also a problem when the air conditioning failed this summer, he added.

Ceiling leaks were a problem earlier this year, Haber said, adding that one librarian had to leave his desk because water was dripping on his head.

Library employees are barred from speaking to the media. James Morgan, head librarian at the JP Branch, referred questions to the main BPL.

The JP Branch has a total of $8.5 million budgeted for renovation and expansion, including $500,000 for a design phase set to begin in April. Library advocates are hoping for completion by the building’s 100th anniversary in 2011.

But more substantial fixes to the building’s climate control need to happen sooner, Sherwood said, describing the building as “like seeing somebody who has a great suit that has been worn for too many years.”

The neighborhood advocacy that secured the renovation funding was focused on long-term thinking rather than a “Band-Aid” approach. But, Haber said, that doesn’t mean that serious short-term fixes should be overlooked.

“If you’re going to keep the building accessible to the public at all, you’re going to have to make some short-term repairs,” he said.

Long-term renovation and expansion of the library has been a battle. After advocates successfully fought for a planning process to begin, former BPL president Bernard Margolis showed up at a meeting last year to abruptly kill the planning, saying there was no money for it.

Mayor Thomas Menino put the planning back on track, but his city budget didn’t fund it, either, until City Councilor John Tobin demanded it.

Margolis and Menino feuded for years and did so once again in the pages of the Boston Globe when the BPL board ousted Margolis on Nov. 13. According to the Globe, Margolis’ post-firing claims that Menino ordered him to hire certain political friends have resulted in a State Ethics Commission investigation of the mayor. In any case, the fate of the branch libraries was a major part of the sniping between the two.

The spin from Menino staff members is that Margolis wanted to kill off branch libraries, while the spin from Margolis is that Menino wouldn’t fund the library system properly.

City officials have said the BPL will now devote more funding to the branches, though it is unclear how that will play out.

“It sounds like the thrust is more focus on neighborhood branches,” Haber said.

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