Magnet library renovations get student plaudits

Photo by Rich Bockmann
By Rich Bockmann

The furniture inside the 75-year-old library at the Campus Magnet Complex in Cambria Heights used to be in such poor condition the librarians would record videos of themselves rocking back and forth in wobbly-legged chairs when applying for grants.

“The computers were inadequate and there was not enough seating. It really was an old library,” Humanities and the Arts Magnet High School Principal Rosemarie O’Mard said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the newly renovated library Friday morning. “[The students] didn’t like the library before. They like it now.”

The building, at 207-01 116th Ave., is home to four different high schools and about 1,800 students who benefit from the $600,000 renovation that put a new polish on the library’s circulation desk and bookshelves and purchased 43 new computers, new furniture, lighting and a new floor.

“It’s more comfortable and it’s got a different vibe. I actually want to be here and study,” said junior Shantell Andrews, who drops by the library about two or three times a week to work on research projects or pick out a new book to read.

Each of the four different high schools in the building is responsible for maintaining its common area, and O’Mard said she and the other principals made the library a top priority.

“All the principals agreed. This is one of the spaces we all wanted to focus on.

Librarians Barbara Mehlman and Kate O’Connell oversee a collection of more than 15,000 books that had to be packed up over the summer and reshelved in time for the beginning of the school year. Mehlman said that eight years ago the state cited a substandard library when it put the school on its watch list for closure.

“Kate and I were hired and told to make it a great library, and we did,” she said.

The two got busy writing grants, were able to persuade the principal to throw in some dollars and assessed the collection, which Mehlman said is now one of the best in the city.

The recent renovation put the final touch on the library, now known as the Campus Magnate Academic Media Center.

“It never had a name, so we gave it a name,” Mehlman said.

O’Mard thanked City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), who allocated a significant amount of funding for the library renovation as well as improvements to classrooms.

“We’re happy to do it, whatever we can do to help,” the councilman said, and expressed his displeasure with the fact that the city Department of Education did not fund the renovation.

“The DOE should be funding it. Unfortunately, the DOE has come to depend on our [Council] dollars. That’s something we are not happy about in the Council,” he said.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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