BPL face barrage of questions over library closure

Boston Public Library (BPL) officials during a community meeting faced a barrage of questions over their decision to close the Parker Hill Branch Library for a year to allow the building to undergo renovations.

The questions ranged from the lack of community outreach to why the closure will overlap with the closure of the closest BPL branch in Dudley to what will happen to the Parker Hill programs during the renovation.

About 30 people, including Mission Hill City Councilor Josh Zakim, attended the May 17 meeting at the Parker Hill Branch Library. BPL will hold a second community at the library on June 13 at 6 p.m.

The Parker Hill Branch July 1 will close for a year to undergo a $2.4 million renovation that consists of waterproofing the infrastructure of the building; repointing, and in some cases replacing, the masonry; interior plaster repairs; interior painting; and replacing all of the windows, which are original. The library was originally supposed to close June 1, but after pushback from the community, including over wanting it open through the school year, it was pushed back.

BPL President David Leonard apologized for the lack of community outreach over the project.

“We should have scheduled a meeting two months ago when we learned the impact on the community and learned how long the closure was going to be,” he said.

Suzanne Healy questioned why the Parker Hill Branch Library’s closure would overlap with the shutdown of the Dudley Branch, which is expected to close sometime in the fall.

Leonard said that BPL has been trying to renovate the Parker Hill Branch for the last three years and has finally secured money to do so. He said that maintenance workers have been pouring plaster into the walls to prevent leaks and expressed that the renovation is desperately needed. Leonard said that the Dudley Branch is in a similar dire condition, having closed four times because of drainage failures.

Many attendees expressed what a valuable resource the Parker Hill Library is to them, voicing enthusiasm for the branch’s programs and librarian. Yolonda Walker, who was at the meeting with her young daughter Summer, said having the library close for a year was a “huge disadvantage” for Summer who receives math help there, and added she was “very concerned.”

BPL and attendees discussed several options to offer services during the closure, including renting or using donated space to set-up a temporary library, offering a library-on-the-go, and using a hospital shuttle to travel to another branch library.

Leonard said that the meeting was the start of the conversation because BPL officials did not know what the community wanted. He added that now that they know what the community wants, BPL officials will process the information and figure out solutions.

The Parker Hill Branch began in 1907 as a small reading room at a storefront at 1518 Tremont St. It became an official BPL branch in 1924 and moved to its present location at 1497 Tremont St. when Mayor James Michael Curley opened the building in 1931.

The 10,200-square-foot, two-story Gothic building was designed by the famed architect Ralph Adams Cram.

The library was closed for a year in 2005 to undergo a renovation, including installing a ramp and elevator, to make the building handicap accessible. A few years before that, the Friends of Historic Mission Hill filed a petition with the Boston Landmarks Commission (BLC) to landmark the building. The BLC voted unanimously to accept the petition, which is still pending. That requires any work to be done on the building be approved by the BLC. The BLC recently approved the proposed renovation project.

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