PW: Central library expansion on hold

Artists rendering of the completed expansion of the central branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia. The project has been long delayed.
Artist's rendering of the completed expansion of the central branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia. The project has been long delayed.

I covered the again-stalled addition to Philadelphia’s Free Library central branch for Philadelphia Weekly, and it ran online during the weekend as part of their growing Web presence.

Think of it as the library of the future.

At more than 300 computers, graphic designers work on new projects, musicians record and bloggers and authors write and research, using the quiet of old and the wireless of new. Arching skylights vault over glass walkways, and plate–glass windows open an 8,500–square–foot foyer to light and weather patterns. A Visual and Performing Arts Department lets visitors focus on music instead of books. A Teen Center brings resources to school–aged kids courtesy of tattooed librarians, while the Entrepreneurium offers those who dream of starting a business the tools to make it happen. It’s all designed by internationally acclaimed architect Moshe Safdie, and it’s called Parkway Central—one of the premiere libraries in the nation.

It’s also, for now, a fiction… Read the rest here.

Comment and then come on back for a few items I cut from the story – see them below.

  • “We have to jerry-rig computers,” says Sandy Horrocks, a spokeswoman for the Free Library. “This building [central library] was designed in the 19th century. It wasn’t meant to have the capacity for the technologies we want to provide.”
  • “I think we can continue to quietly move ahead [with fundraising, project planning].”
  • The court order is more complicated, too. If those 11 branches are court-ordered to remain open, the funding to staff them might not come with it, considering the Free Library already took a 20 percent budget cut in November, Horrocks says.
  • “We’re short-staffed, so we have to keep moving. We see more emergency closings, though, because we simply do not have the people or resources.”
  • “Library services can happen without a building. We can do those services, at a school or elsewhere.”
  • Horrocks did note that many library services don’t need a building. But gosh it’d be nice, she says.
  • “If we don’t have those 11 branches, we will have to be very creative in taking on those new services. All of that work will come from central, which is already overburdened. It would be nice to do that work in a facility that isn’t a mess.”
  • “We hope delaying might actually help the project,” Horrocks says. “As the economy struggles so is the construction industry, so costs will be coming down. Maybe we can take advantage with that.”

In addition to original research and interviews, I relied on Free Library press releases, including this one on the one millionth visitor to the central branch in 2007, this one from 2006 when Gov. Rendell invested nearly $10 million of state money into the project, and this one from December 2004 when the original mayor ordinance began the central library expansion project.

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