Historic struggle embroils Elmhurst library

Preservationists and Queens library remain at odds over the fate of the historic Elmhurst branch.
While some conservationists hope to preserve building - one of five remaining libraries in the borough built by tycoon Andrew Carnegie in the early 1900s - library officials have scheduled it to be demolished within 18 months - so that a bigger branch can be built.
“We are moving forward with our plans to build a newly expanded library at Elmhurst, and we continue to speak with many people regarding the current facility. We are working with the community to make sure that many of the significant elements of the current facility are incorporated into the new structure,” said James Van Bramer, Queens Library’s Director of Government and Community Affairs.
Van Bramer said that the library already has all of the funding - including money to setup a temporary library while construction is carried out - to proceed with the plan. Officials have not finalized what aspects of the current structure, located at 86-01 Broadway, will be carried over to the new facility, he said.
Van Bramer explained that the current building occupies about 15,000 square feet, and the new construction will be double its size, making Elmhurst the second largest branch in the borough behind Flushing. Currently, the building is also one of the busiest.
“There are lines snaking all around the building to take out a book because it [the library] is simply too small,” he said. “Every chair is always taken.”
The $20 million job will include new computers, books, a children’s room, an adult reading room, a state-of-the-art community center, lots of windows, and increased green space.
“The bottom line is that the current facility does not meet the needs of the community in Elmhurst, and our responsibility and obligation is to provide high quality library service to the people,” Van Bramer said.
Still, preservationists like Michael Perlman, President of the Queens Preservation Council, have called on the library to nix their demolition plans.
“The Elmhurst population has grown significantly so I sincerely comprehend the reasons for expansion but it doesn’t have to involve the demolition of a highly significant structure,” Perlman said.
In a petition, which had garnered more than 75 signatures as of Monday, November 19, the Council asked officials to find a place to build an annex for the library or renovate the interior while leaving the outside in tact.
“There are alternatives to expand the book collection without sacrificing an institution of architectural, cultural, and historical significance; not to mention mature tree plantings,” the petition reads. “Millions in funding are being allocated by our council members and city agencies for development and redevelopment projects citywide, but why not spend it here to preserve this rare gem?”
Out of the original seven Carnegie libraries, five remain - Elmhurst, Astoria, Woodhaven, Richmond Hill, and College Point/Poppenhusen branches. The Elmhurst branch opened in 1906 and looks much as it did a century ago.
Since the plans for the library were first released, library officials have agreed to listen to input from the community.
“I’ve already spoken with a couple of people regarding their concerns about the loss of the current facility. What we have said in response is that we will take suggestions. We will work with people to incorporate aspects of the current library into the new one,” Van Bramer said.

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