By Bill Parry
Hunters Point is finally getting its library. Construction of the long-delayed $30 million project on Long Island City’s waterfront will begin this spring.
“The dream of building Hunters Point’s very own full-service library branch is now a reality,” City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) said. “For nearly 15 years I have worked to make this day possible. Today we proudly announce shovels will hit the ground this spring. This beautiful neighborhood is a city within a city. Once this library is built it will become a crown jewel in the system.”
Scheduled to open in 2017, the 21,500-square-foot library will feature a rooftop terrace with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline, reading rooms for all ages, a gallery and performance space and a reading garden. Celebrity architect Steven Holl is at the helm of the project, one that had to be scaled back last year because it was over-budget.
“It’s a very emotional day for me,” Friends of Queens Library at Hunters Point President Mark Christie said. “It’s not the original design but it’s beginning to grow on me. It’s going to be a good building no matter what the design. It will be a really good place to use your brain.”
Christie and other community leaders were exasperated at the delays for a project that was once slated for completion in 2009.
“It got to the point where I felt we were hoodwinked,” Christie said.
Former Community Board Chairman Joe Conley, who began campaigning for the library in the early ‘90s with community activist Terri Adams, recalls a more modest beginning.
“What we had asked for was a children’s library and community center,” Conley said. “The entire journey would make one hell of a book.”
While Christie blamed elected officials for hijacking the project for political gain, Conley rejected that premise, putting the blame solidly on Steven Holl.
“The architect had these grandiose plans and he wouldn’t budge on the design because he was putting his name on it,” Conley said. “It became a memorial to him instead of a library for the people.”
He added that Van Bramer delivered over $3 million in funding.
“It was Jimmy who came up with the extra money to finally get us over the finish line,” Conley said.
Holl was traveling this week so Olaf Schmidt, the senior associate at Steven Holl Architects for Hunters Point Community Library, spoke for him.
“While we were waiting to bid the project, the cost of construction in New York greatly increased,” he said. “We made significant reductions to the design to offset the escalation of construction cost in the city and are happy to report these reductions have positioned the project where it can be approved to go forward. Working with Queens Library, stakeholders and the Department of Design and Construction, the key concepts of the design were maintained while at the same time significant adjustments were made such as a simplified landscape design, replacement of the foamed aluminum rains skin with painted concrete, changing the geothermal heating and cooling system to a conventional mechanical system and reduced interior finishes and details.”
Feniosky Pena-Mora, the commissioner of the city Department of Design and Construction, promised that residents of Long Island City will be proud of the new library.
“It is our responsibility to provide New Yorkers with buildings and services that are socially responsible, progressively designed, resilient and sustainable, while also taking into account the concerns of the communities that our projects are situated,” Pena-Mora said. “Residents can expect a building they will be proud of. It will represent the character of the community as it moves forward.”
Pena-Mora said the library will glow like a beacon at night and be very visible from Manhattan. “It will complement the Pepsi sign,” he said, “Where the Pepsi sign speaks to Long Island City’s history, the library will speak to the future of the community.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.