Subterranean Library Blues

An Update on Greenpoint’s New Library and Environmental Education Center

Likely, you are aware that the Greenpoint Library is on hiatus. The iconic 1970s era building was closed at the end of June, and the building was dismantled shortly thereafter. Construction on the new library began this past fall, with an original opening date for the sparkly  digs originally scheduled for the end of 2018.

Combining a state-of-the-art new library with a unique Environmental Education Center, the new library is primed to become the tent pole of a new, environmentally “woke” Greenpoint. With a LEED Silver certification, the building will practice what it preaches. Ample open space provided in the design of the library, including a handsome rooftop garden and study area, promises to ground the Environmental Education Center firmly in the tactile — a boon for Greenpoint’s younger environmental stewards.

Designed by Marble-Fairbanks, the new library broke ground on October 23.  At a meeting on January 23rd, Project Manager Ames O’Neill reported on progress, and revised the projected opening date back from the end of 2018 to the Spring of 2019. The reason? A surprise basement!

“We discovered that the original basement, of the Carnegie building, was never removed” noted O’Neill. “The ’70s era building had just laid a slab over it, but the basement is still there, filled with dirt.” The abatement of this basement and some associated asbestos piping account for the extra months on the project.

The original Greenpoint Library dates back to 1906. One of the first libraries in Brooklyn, the original building was an early beneficiary of Scottish-American steel magnate Andrew Carnegie’s famed library initiative, which ultimately constructed over 1500 such libraries across the United States. Built in the neoclassical style, the original building comprised the typical amenities that we have come to associate with a “Carnegie Library,” including an elevated single entrance, high ceilings, and lamp posts outside the building, to symbolize enlightenment.

The Carnegie library was replaced in the early 1970s with a widely loathed brutalist buiding of obscured provenance. Squat, horizontal, with a heavy concrete cornice, and a forbidding iron fence, the ’70s building seemed almost an inversion of the original Carnegie building.

With the discovery of the Carnegie basement, this project enters the realm of vindictive architectural irony.  One can imagine the ghost of the Carnegie, for years blocked from doing its haunting duties by a slab of 70’s era concrete, finally relishing its liberation, and exerting some small revenge on the Library board for the original sin of trying to bury it these 50 years

MEETING NOTES (Per Ames O’Neill, Project Manager, Brooklyn Public Library)

  1. Construction ran into delays after we discovered the basement and asbestos piping left behind underground from the old Carnegie library. We’ve safely removed all the asbestos, revised the excavation plans/permits to remove sections of the old basement, and yesterday we received DOB approval to proceed. As we get back on track we’ll know more about how this impacts the schedule, but for now the opening of the new building will likely be Spring 2019.
  2. We applied for and received an additional grant from GCEF for $49K. We will use $12K to support buying more print and online materials for the environmental collection at the new library. The remainder will be used for an exciting community project: we will have a digital archivist collect oral histories, personal photographs and memorabilia related to Greenpoint’s environmental history and scan/upload them. Much more info to come, but we plan to hold six community events over the year between April 2018 – March 2019.
  3. Reminder that BPL is serving the neighborhood with the book mobile, biweekly story time at the YMCA, and a pop-up library at the Park Church Co-op. See our website here for details.
  4. We’re also continuing with the Green Series of monthly eco-inspired programs at the nearby Leonard Library. Details of upcoming events can be found here.