With splashy promotional pieces touting its 2014 summer reading campaign, the Brooklyn Public Library is enticing thousands of local school children, many of whose academic year ends this week, to patronize its 60 branches located throughout the vast borough.
The kids just shouldn’t be surprised if the air conditioning at their local branch is on the fritz.
With the onset of summer, public libraries have traditionally offered all ages a refreshing respite from the heat. However—as a result of massive capital deficits now totaling $308 million dollars—in the past few years BPL has struggled with HVAC problems during the dog days of summer.
According to a document on its website titled Brooklyn Public Library’s Overall Estimated Capital Construction Needs, 28—count ‘em, 28—BPL branches are estimated to require HVAC repairs of $750,000 or more. At the suggestion of a sharp-eyed Brooklyn Heights Blog reader, BHB conducted a quick telephone survey of these HVAC-challenged branches.
According to the local librarians, almost none of these branches were affected by a recent heat spell. Responding to a follow-up question about what to expect this summer, most respondents gave a cautious outlook on how their building’s air conditioning will hold up. At the Windsor Terrace branch, which BPL lists as needing $4.7 million dollars in repairs, including $750,000 in HVAC upgrades along with $2 million in interior renovation, the response was “We’re cool right now!”
The librarian at the Walt Whitman branch in Fort Greene, one of 18 BPL branches built in the early 20th century with funds donated by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, admitted that air conditioning issues have cropped up “from time to time,” but that all was currently well at present.
The librarian who spoke for the Pacific branch, the subject of much recent speculation due to enormous—$9,950,000—costs in impending capital improvements, was sanguine regarding the fragile state of the building’s HVAC system: “Sometimes it’s not working – but so far so good.”
At BPL’s Central Library at Grand Army Plaza – which has an estimate of $9,500,000 for HVAC issues as part of a whopping $67,750,000 renovation estimate—the A/C was fine, though the librarian who answered the phone expressed surprise about any inquiry regarding the building’s summer fitness.
Many librarians who responded to BHB’s informal survey assumed any call about air conditioning problems reflected concern about the Brooklyn Heights branch, where hours of operation have been cut to 8am – 1pm due to $3,600,000 in desperately needed HVAC repairs, just part of overall costs of $9,225,000 in upgrades required for the popular branch to be fully operational year round.
Of course, BPL’s plan for this particular library is to forgo repairs and simply replace the entire building as part of a sell-off of the branch to a developer who will build a brand new 20,000 square feet library in a 40-plus story residential tower.
Presumably, whatever temporary location that will serve the community during construction will have state-of-the-art HVAC systems. An announcement of whom BPL will select to develop the site may be announced in the next few weeks—just in time for August swelter.
Photo: Brooklyn Heights Branch Library with summer hours posted.