After years of planning and advocacy, the renovated Jamaica Plain Branch Library opened on May 20 with a big turnout and symbolic ribbon cutting by Mayor Martin Walsh, according to Gretchen Grozier, co-chair of the board of Friends of Jamaica Plain Branch Library.
The $10 million renovation updated the library to have 20 percent more space, more computers and technology, and more accessibility.
Grozier said that the ribbon cutting ceremony at the Jamaica Plain Branch Library drew hundreds of community members, eager to see the new space. Several bands performed at the opening, including Honk! and JP Jubilee.
The library was originally opened in 1911, and was built without an elevator and the bathrooms in the basement. The renovation was a product of years of planning and advocacy since the 1960s, which is when the library saw its last update.
A plan to renovate the library was presented in 2006, but ultimately did not receive any City funding due to a declining economy. Around that time several libraries around the city were slated to be closed by the City, but community lobbying prevented this from happening.
The most recent planning process for the renovation began in 2015, and has been completed within its construction time frame and budget.
Boston Public Library, the City of Boston’s Public Facilities Department, and Utile, Inc. Architecture & Planning, the design firm for the project, collaborated closely with the Friends of the Jamaica Plain Branch Library and the community at-large in designing the library. Through the planning process, Friends of Jamaica Plain Branch Library requested proposals from architects who wanted to do the renovation, and chose Utile out of 20 to 25 candidates.
Grozier said that Utile was chosen for understanding the community ideals and also having designed a library before.
“It’s not a school or a house, there are other things that need to be taken into account [when designing a library],” Grozier said. “The Jamaica Plain community was very vocal about what they wanted.”
A priority for residents was to have space for artists to showcase their work. The renovation includes several spaces for which to do this.
There are now several opportunities for artists to showcase their work at the library. Mayor Walsh recently announced a request for proposals (RFP) for a public art project at the Jamaica Plain Branch as part of the new Percent for Art program. This program is a product of Boston Creates, Boston’s cultural plan, and will provide $1.7 million in public art projects in fiscal year 2018. The funds for public art through the Percent for Art policy are 1 percent of the City’s planned borrowing for each year.
There will also be gallery space inside the library managed by Uforge Gallery and funded by Friends of Jamaica Plain Branch Library, who have commissioned three pieces of art based on the community’s ideas and given it to Boston Public Library to display as permanent pieces. Other gallery space will be available on a rotating basis with artist receptions.
The Friends groups fundraise to support the branch libraries and act as an advocate for things that they and librarians identify as needs for each branch. Friends of Jamaica Plain Branch library held a fundraiser on May 5 for the new makerspace since they knew that there wouldn’t be a lot of room in the budget for that, according to Grozier. The group continues to do fundraising and accepting new members.
“We want to make sure that if the librarians see the need for something, there won’t be a shortage of funds for it,” Grozier said.
Funds from the Friends groups also go towards museum passes around the city, which are distributed at libraries across the city. Passes offer free or discounted entry to local attractions. To learn more about this program visit bit.ly/2rRQstq.
Through the community engagement planning process, residents also asked for a looping system, which is a technology to help those with hearing loss. The Jamaica Plain Branch library is now the first in the Boston Public Library System to offer looping technology. A dedication of the new looping system will be held to introduce it and other adaptive devices to the community on June 17 at the library, starting at 10 a.m. The event includes a panel discussion on looping and other technologies and resources for support for those with hearing loss.
This branch will also be the first to include a 3D printer as part of the new digital makerspace. Other technology improvements include 15 new desktop and 20 laptop computers, free WiFi, and additional self-checkout stations.
A big advocate for accessibility was Don Haber, a member of the board of the Friends of Jamaica Plain Branch Library. Don Haber’s son, Adrian Haber, broke his leg when he was a child, and as a result, was unable to attend children’s programming or use the bathrooms, both of which were in the basement. Don Haber dedicated 14 years of advocacy to this cause, and now the building is now fully ADA accessible to all people due to a new elevator.
The renovation features a 700-square-foot addition facing South Street that will serve as a community reading lounge; a terrace along Sedgwick Street where residents can read and mingle; multiple meeting spaces; improved and more flexible space for children, teens, and adults; and a refreshed collection of 30,000 items.
The library also now has parking for over 15 bikes and new exterior landscaping. There are also baby-changing stations in the men’s and women’s restrooms, and a new family bathroom on the ground floor.