JP Library to get long-planned renovation

December 7, 2012
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SUMNER HILL—After a six-year delay, the Jamaica Plain branch of the Boston Public Library (BPL) is gearing up for the building’s first major renovation since the 1960s. But it’s unclear how large the scope of the renovation might be.

“This is a commitment to a full renovation and making [the branch] a really great space,” BPL Branch Libraries Director and JP resident Christine Schonhart said at a Nov. 28 community meeting.

The renovation of the 12 Sedgwick St. branch is being fast-tracked so BPL can request the project’s funds from the city in March, Schonhart said.

The renovation will be informed by a 2006 $8.5 million renovation plan. While “the goals will be largely the same,” BPL cannot commit to all the changes proposed in that plan, though the “scope will include a complete renovation” inside and out, Schonhart said.

Those goals include bringing the building’s accessibility in line with Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines and maximizing book and programming space, since possible additions to the existing building would be extremely limited due to previous preservation work.

“We really want to use every [existing] available square foot,” Friends of the Jamaica Plain Branch Library co-chair Don Haber said at the meeting. “We want our staff to be happy.”

Expanding the building is still possible, though it would likely be complicated to plan and limited in scope, BPL officials said.

No budget has yet been set for the project, Schonhart said.

Haber expressed skepticism during the meeting at the need to revisit the 2006 plan. Schonhart and other project team members said that the plan is not feasible as-is.

The 2006 plan would relocate the children’s room—and children’s librarian—to the lower level. BPL does not plan on immediately hiring more staff, which would mean that all public areas would have to remain on one level. Occasionally-used programming space could be accommodated on another level.

The JP Branch was built in 1911, the first neighborhood branch building in the BPL system. While it has been renovated in that time, the building remains largely unchanged from its original state. It is notably not accessible to users with mobility issues, as has been nationally required since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990.

During a recent Gazette earlier this year, Friends of the Jamaica Plain Branch Library members showed various ADA non-compliances, like the restrooms—too small to accommodate a wheelchair and accessible only by stairs—and the disused spaces in the lower level. The library’s meeting and function space is also downstairs and accessible only by stairs, which limits its possible uses.

The JP Branch has 10,200 gross square feet of space, almost half of which is in the lower level of the building and not available for programming. The 2006 plan would increase gross square feet by 3,570 and usable public space from near 5,000 square feet to 13,900 square feet. According to the plan, a typical newer branch library in the BPL system is about 20,000 gross square feet.

The Friends have been pushing for a complete renovation since the 2006 plan was shelved.

The 2006 report is available at bit.ly/BPLreport.

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