The Central City Library has been closed for more than two months because of HVAC issues, leaving some patrons frustrated over its uncertain reopening date and a lack of communication from library officials.
The branch has been closed since late August after library staff found mold in the building, according to a Monday (Oct. 30) update from the New Orleans Public Library. A remediation contractor visited the site a couple of weeks ago to perform specialized cleaning to ensure the air quality is safe for people, it said.
“We will open the Library as soon as it is safe for our staff and patrons to return,” the update reads.
This summer, the New Orleans Public Library also had to close four other libraries because of issues with aging buildings and facilities, including its main branch on Loyola Ave. HVAC systems across library buildings have been impacted by this year’s extreme heat, said Jane LeGros, the library’s director of communications.
The library is working with the city’s Department of Property Management, which is overseeing the work at Central City Library. The reopening depends on how long the repairs will take, LeGros said in an email to Verite News.
The Department of Property Management is in the bidding portion of the procurement process now and hopes to award a contract for repairs next week, said City Hall spokesperson John Lawson.
Central City is the only branch that remains closed without a definite timeline for resuming operations, leading community members with the New Orleans Peoples Assembly to show up at the site and demand its reopening.
“After community members have been raising our collective voices, we finally are hearing that they ‘are working on it,’” the group wrote in an Instagram post this week. “But we are here to state that we always hear ‘we are working on it.’ So we should also be provided an immediate timeline for resolve to this issue.”
The organization has been stationed outside of the library to host literacy activities and redirect patrons who arrived at the closed branch trying to check out books, use computers and do research for school projects, the group said on social media. (The group did not respond to requests for comment by publication time.)
The group also pushed for the reopening and maintenance of other library branches that were shuttered for parts of the summer, arguing that the limited access to these public institutions has negatively impacted children and families in the city.
“Libraries are an important part of our community that provide much needed resources and services at no additional cost to anyone,” said one organizer in a speech posted to the group’s Instagram. “Libraries are one of the needs of a healthy community. [The library] is a public space that provides access to knowledge, entertainment, and interpersonal connection for community members in many formats.”
The Central City branch is located in a neighborhood where more than 30% of residents live below the poverty line, making the library an especially necessary public institution, said Shannan Cvitanovic, executive director of Friends of the New Orleans Public Library.
“The Central City Library is located in an area that needs resources like the library,” Cvitanovic said. “It is in an area that needs all of the support that it can get.”
The Central City Library is housed in the Allie Mae Williams Multi-Service Center. Opened in 2010, the branch is in what Cvitanovic calls an educational corridor, located less than a mile from Mahalia Jackson Elementary School and is a two-minute drive away from the Central City YMCA.
Cvitanovic said she understands the reopening process takes time, but the city needs to be more transparent and direct in its communication with community members. Residents are concerned the Central City Library is not a priority for the city, she added.
“The public would just like some assurance that the project to reopen Central City is moving forward,” said Cvitanovic. “What is the status? Can it be reopened at that location? How long is that going to have to take?”
The library’s board voted in September to move $9.5 million in library reserves to upgrade the Main Library. The library is also part of a citywide HVAC and roof repair capital project that will lead to fixes at the Smith, Algiers, Norman Mayer, East New Orleans and Rosa Keller Libraries. The roof repair project is scheduled to be completed next year, LeGros said.
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