Sandy-hit libraries face slow, costly rebuidling

By Karen Frantz

The Queens Library branch in Arverne smells dank and is cold and dark. Some of the walls are completely stripped. All of the books are gone, many having been lost in the surge during Hurricane Sandy, and what little shelving remains is covered in plastic sheets.

It is one of three branches in the Rockaways that suffered serious damage and needs to be rebuilt — a process that will likely be slow and costly. The three branches, as well as another branch in Broad Channel, collectively suffered about $7.5 million in damage costs and lost more than 100,000 books, CDs, DVDs and other library material.

But several Queens elected officials who toured the Arverne and Peninsula branches in Far Rockaway Monday appeared committed to the process.

“Libraries are something that I think should appeal to anyone,” said U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) during the tour. “We know that it is the essence of the community, where people can come and learn and move and progress.”

He said he wants Congress to pass legislation providing $51 billion to states reeling from Sandy on Jan. 15, some of which he said would go to reimbursing the city for the cost of rebuilding the libraries.

But he said the money is not enough to meet all the needs across the states in the storm’s path, so he is also looking at raising private funds to help the libraries.

He also added he is not confident Congress will pass the $51 billion.

“I have some concerns,” he said, pointing to the 67 representatives who voted down a $9 billion aid package for hurricane relief last Friday.

Other elected officials who also joined the tour included state Sens. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) and James Sanders (D-Laurelton), state Assemblyman Philip Goldfeder (D-Ozone Park), City Councilmen Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) and Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) and Borough President Helen Marshall.

Queens Library President and CEO Thomas Galante said the city has promised funding for reconstruction of the buildings, which are city-owned. He said Queens Library is currently at work with the city to determine what the reconstruction process will look like.

“What we’re still working through is what the process will be, who will do the work and how that gets started,” he said.

He also said the organization is hoping to secure private funding to help expand programs that would include helping people seek and find jobs in the Rockaways.

In the meantime, Queens Library spokeswoman Joanne King said the Arverne and Peninsula branches have temporary trailers set up to meet the needs of the community, and another will open at the Broad Channel branch in a few weeks. She said it may take up to seven months to a year or more for some of the branches to be restored.

She said following the storm there were a number of people who had turned to the libraries seeking help, which the libraries provided.

“In the beginning people were just shell-shocked,” she said.

Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at kfrantz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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