Schenectady County’s new family literacy center will soon rise from the ashes of a once-derelict flea market straddling the city’s Vale and Hamilton Hill neighborhoods.
The new 4,000-square-foot facility is expected to break ground in 2014 on the site of the old Whitehouse Flea Market building on State Street. The new facility is slated for an area that is about seven-tenths of a mile from the Schenectady County Public Library’s Duane and Hamilton Hill branches — both of which will be shuttered once the new center is completed sometime in early 2015.
The acre located between Steuben Street and Swan Street has remained vacant since a series of deliberately set fires led the city to demolish the dilapidated structure, which had been vacant for more than a decade. The city took title to the property and has agreed to sell the land to the Schenectady County Industrial Development Agency for $120,000.
The IDA will sell the land for $120,000 to a private developer, who will use part of the space for a commercial building and donate the rest of the land for the library’s project. Metroplex Development Authority Chairman Ray Gillen declined to identify the commercial developer but said the combination of the library’s project and the redevelopment of the remaining parcel will help bring revitalization efforts to a new part of State Street.
“This helps bring development further up State, and that’s what our goal is,” he said Wednesday. “It’s very positive for that neighborhood.”
Library Director Karen Bradley said the center will establish some much-needed space for programs that will serve the Hamilton Hill, Vale and Central State neighborhoods. Among other things, she said the new center will bring classroom space, broadband access and computers to an area of the city that is vastly underserved now by the existing library branches.
“This building is really going to be the heart of the community up there,” she said “We see this as a real beacon in that part of the city.”
Bradley said the new center will help area residents obtain solid reading and writing skills. In addition to including various literacy programs, the facility will have space for broadband Internet access and computer terminals.
“This is a great commitment that the county is being able to make to that area,” she said.
Schenectady County legislators this week approved an amendment to the capital budget that will provide $450,000 for the center. The new building also will be financed by $400,000 taken from a bequest left to the library by Phyllis Bornt, its former branch coordinator. She left $716,000 for the betterment of all nine of the system’s branches after her death in 2010.
The library is hoping to leverage the combination of capital funding and bequest money to secure a $250,000 grant from the state Department of Education. County Legislator Gary Hughes said the eventual elimination of the Hamilton Hill branch will save money the library now pays in rent to Carver Community Center and place the building occupied by the Duane branch back on the tax rolls.
“This is another significant step forward in our streamlining of our library services, especially in the city,” he said. “This is another example of how you do more with less.”
The county’s library system was hard hit in the county Legislature’s 2013 budget. The restructuring plan implemented in July left the library with less staff, fewer hours of operation and a smaller materials budget.
The plan resulted in a net reduction of 34.5 hours per week spread among eight of the library’s nine locations, while calling for a merger between the Hamilton Hill and Duane branches. Overall, the plan outlines $486,000 in savings.
Hughes, who is chairman of the Legislature’s Committee on Libraries and Education, said the new center will not only improve services for its surrounding neighborhoods, but it will also help the library reduce costs.
“It allows us to accomplish a whole lot of things without us changing our cost structure,” he said.