Karen Bradley thought back to the day last month when she and fellow library staff had to pack up the Hamilton Hill branch of the Schenectady County Public Library.
“We were told we had to exit the premises,” she said. “That was a very sad day.”
The library was on the second floor of the Carver Community Center on Craig Street, so when Carver abruptly closed at the end of 2013, so did the library in one of the city’s most needy neighborhoods. The sudden closure was unexpected and “deeply disturbing” to library officials, said Bradley, director of the library system.
The only silver lining was that the county library system was deep into planning a new branch that would merge its Hamilton Hill and Duane branches. A new, state-of-the-art facility called the Bornt Branch Library and Family Literacy Center is slated to go up later this year on vacant land at 954 State St. that is central to three inner-city neighborhoods: Hamilton Hill, Vale and Central State Street.
Still, the closure meant the library had to come up with an immediate response. The first step was to encourage patrons to use the library’s Duane branch at 1331 State St., about 1.2 miles from the shuttered Hamilton Hill branch, or the Mont Pleasant branch at 1026 Crane St., about two-thirds of a mile away.
But in the weeks since the closure, officials found the distance may be an issue for former patrons. So Saturday, when members of the community were scheduled to meet to discuss services and programs they would like to see at the new facility, there was also a discussion about how to meet the immediate needs of the Hamilton Hill community.
Bradley made one thing clear: The library will not set up a temporary branch. There simply aren’t enough resources given budget constraints over the last two years, not to mention most of the infrastructure of the former branch was old and dilapidated.
“When we took apart Hamilton Hill, everything was ancient and falling apart,” she said. “We were only able to take two tables that were really work taking. Other tables and the bookcases were really old. There were plastic signs that were old and cracked. As soon as you started moving stuff downstairs and into trucks and unloading, it was like ‘Whoa, this is really not safe.’ ”
And although the computers, which were in constant use, survived the move, the Microsoft Windows XP operating system they used is set to expire April 1. The board of trustees was already planning to purchase new computers that can accommodate a newer operating system, but to install new technology in a temporary space didn’t make sense, Bradley said.
Library officials are now reaching out to the community for help. They’re asking local organizations and community facilities if they have any extra space where library staff might be able to host certain programming, like literacy programs, or physical materials, like a small collection of children’s books.
So far, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Schenectady have offered to provide some temporary space in its facility at 400 Craig St. Nothing has been finalized yet, though.
Bradley said the temporary solution will in no way resemble hauling an entire branch’s worth of materials and equipment into some other organization’s space.
Another idea community members suggested at Saturday’s meeting was arranging some form of transportation with the Schenectady City School District for those kids who are unable to get to another branch. This idea was originally bandied about while brainstorming services for the new location. Residents said they loved the idea of school buses making a “library stop” in addition to their regular stops, so long as parents sign off.
About two dozen community members gathered in the McChesney Room at the main branch Saturday, including county legislators Anthony Jasenski, Karen Johnson, Rory Fluman and Holly Vellano.
The County Legislature axed $521,000 from the library’s budget in 2013 and tasked the board with implementing a restructuring plan that would achieve savings. The board came up with a plan last summer that would save $486,000 through trimming hours and shifting personnel. At the same time, the library announced its plan to consolidate the Hamilton Hill and Duane branches y. This was borne less out of response to the cuts and more in response to each branch’s aging facilities and inadequate space for programming.
The plan was to create a new, larger branch that could include a literacy center. It will be named the Bornt branch after the late Phyllis Bornt, of Scotia, who left a $706,000 bequest to the library system when she died in 2010. Most of this — $400,000 — will be used toward the new branch. The county also made a $450,000 commitment to the project, and the board recently secured a $136,000 grant from the state for the project.
More money will likely be needed, though, Bradley said.
“We’re in the midst of writing multiple grant applications to support this,” she said. “It’s clear we need to see other sources of funding for the project. Many things we believe we need to have available at this site do add up to dollars. We would like to have a security system there. We want it to be a state-of-the-art facility that serves as a beacon in the community.”
Bradley shared a seventh — and hopefully final — draft of what the new facility will look like. It includes a large community room that can accommodate a variety of programming, including music and dance programs. A smaller technology/learning lab is nearby for GED classes and other programs that might require computer access. The circulation desk will sit in the middle of the facility, with a public computer section on each side. There are restrooms, a literacy area, a young adult/teen area and a staff-only room.
At 4,680 square feet, the branch will be much bigger than the two branches it is replacing and close in footprint to the Glenville branch.
The board of trustees is slated to approve the design at its meeting Thursday. The project will then go out to bid, and unless something unforeseen happens, Bradley said construction should begin right away and hopefully wrap up by late this year.
Of course, if something unforeseen happens to extend this timeline, she’ll have another problem on her hands.
“If something happens, some stumbling block in our timeline, will we have to rethink everything about our current Hamilton Hill situation? It’s one thing if you’re talking about a branch being closed for months. It’s another thing if you’re talking two years. That could change everything. So we are feeling the urgency and staying the course as best we can on this new facility.”