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Friday, June 22, 2007

Youth Want Old Library for Community Space

We've already linked to the current Norwood News on-line, but this story about a youth group organizing for the old Fordham Library to be converted into a facility for youth programs and community space has not been pPost Options osted on our site yet. So, we thought we'd post it here.

Youth Want Old Fordham Library for Community Space

By Annie Shreffler

Members of Sistas and Brothas United (SBU), a grassroots local youth group affiliated with the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, have their sights set on the old Fordham library as a new community center.

The group rallied at Our Lady of Refuge church on East 196th Street in May to show residents and city leaders that they want to convert the building on Bainbridge Avenue, originally built as a library in 1923 and containing 27,400 square feet of floor space, into a place that can once again be used by the neighborhood.

SBU currently runs all of its programming out of the Coalition’s building on the Grand Concourse, where space is limited. The bottom line is that the group needs more space and the vacant library building would be an ideal place to grow.

Elisabeth Ortega, a former DeWitt Clinton High School student now at Borough of Manhattan Community College, said SBU wants to offer a wide variety of art and technology classes.

“Having a place to do art will build unity and have people take ownership in this,” Ortega said.

Jose Cabrera, a senior at the High School for Teaching and the Professions on the Walton High School campus, said students want to open a job center for young adults.

The Reverend Leo W. Curry of Fordham United Methodist Church, adjacent to the old library, said a community center would be welcome. To make up for the shortage of community space in the area, Curry said neighborhood churches provide room for people and groups to gather, especially seniors.

“Some type of senior program could be held there,” Curry said. “I would endorse [the youth group’s plan]; it might be good to mix all the ages in one building.”

Jessica Mejia, a freshman at Lehman College who has served as a youth leader in SBU for four years, said SBU is pursuing the project partly because the resources aren’t available in their schools.

Last year, when SBU originally tried to acquire access to the library for its new school, the Leadership Institute, plans were scrapped after an environmental study ordered by the School Construction Authority found the library contaminated with Tetrachloroethelyne (PERC), a manufactured chemical used for dry cleaning and as a metal degreaser.

A spokesperson for the New York Public Library (NYPL) confirmed the study’s findings and said they submitted a request to the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) in May to clean up the building’s contaminants and make it safe for use.

The NYPL expects a response from the DEC this summer so work can begin in the fall. No estimated date of completion can be set before they receive a response. When the clean-up is completed, NYPL said it will cut ties with the building.

“Once approved environmental work is completed, our intent is to give the building back to the city and the Department of City Administrative Services (DCAS),” the spokesperson said.

During the Saturday morning rally, SBU and Coalition activists joined with politicians, including Assemblyman Jose Rivera and City Council Members Joel Rivera (the majority leader and Jose’s son) and Robert Jackson (head of the Council’s Education

Committee), on a march from Our Lady of Refuge to the library. Wielding a megaphone, the younger Rivera led a series of chants, as the procession implored residents to join them. The rally culminated with a series of speeches in front of the library.

The elder Rivera, who is being honored as the Coalition’s “Ally of the Year,” agreed to arrange a meeting with DCAS to discuss SBU’s ideas and establish a timeline for a possible project. SBU members said they hoped the rally will persuade politicians to prevent the city from making other plans for the location.

(Photo caption: Council Majority Leader Joel Rivera led activists on a march from Our Lady of Refuge Church to the old Fordham Library building. Local youth want the contaminated library to be cleaned up and turned into a community center Photo by David Greene).

1 comment:

  1. I am an older person living in the NW Bronx and I find this idea really attractive. I'm a great believer in community activities.


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