No plans yet for Carnegie libraries that close
By: Doug Andiorio
Michelle Curko, a native of Mt. Washington , is a library patron and fears the worst for the Carnegie Library building on Grandview Avenue .
“I haven’t gone that far yet to imagine what else could be here but we fear that condos are going to be behind and all around it,” Curko said.
In recent weeks the city of Pittsburgh announced the closing of four Carnegie Library branches. The libraries in Hazelwood, Lawrenceville, Beechview, and the West End . There have been no announcements of yet for the future of the buildings.
All of them are supposed to be vacated by February except Lawrenceville. Lawrenceville would be vacated this summer after renovations to the library in East Liberty are complete.
“We haven’t put much thought into what to do with the buildings. We are only thinking about saving them at this point,” said Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. “We are trying to get our resources together to focus and save these libraries.”
Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has only closed two libraries in its existence: the Martin Luther King Jr. Reading Center in 2005 and the Hazelwood library in 2004.
Almost immediately after the closing the reading center, it was purchased by the Martin Luther King Jr. Cultural Center and the Schenley Heights Community Development Program. It is now the Martin Luther King Jr. Reading and Cultural Center . The books were later donated by Carnegie Libraries.
The Carnegie Library building in Hazelwood is owned by the city and has been sitting untouched since 2004. It was one of the original Carnegie Libraries built in 1900; it contains a 250 seat auditorium and stained glass dome above the circulation desk.
“It has been closed for 4 or 5 years and the city hasn’t done anything with it,” said Glenn Walsh, a longtime library patron. “They will do the same things with the other ones, turn them over to the city and let it be the city’s problem.”
“This process has been very difficult and we expected a big outcry,” said Suzanne Thinhes, spokesperson for Carnegie Libraries. “It has especially been hard for our staff because of their dedication over the years.”
Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh decided to close these branches because of lack of major funds. They have a $14 million deficit to make up and decided to close the four libraries.
“We gave warnings to this happening earlier in the year and showed the status in June at community meetings,” said Thinhes. “We didn’t want to close these libraries but we need funds and if we could find long term funding we could keep them open.”
In past weeks the city has held two community meetings to talk about the closings of the branches. They held a meeting on Thursday on Mt. Washington and a meeting on Saturday in Lawrenceville.
These meetings gave the public a chance to share their opinion on the closures and give any ideas for how to try and keep them open for their communities.
The meeting on Mt. Washington was held at Grandview Presbyterian Church, next door to the Mt. Washington Carnegie Library. The meeting brought in almost 55 citizens of Mt. Washington to discuss a possible move of their library to another location on the mountain.
“This is not a new idea we had a meeting like this in 2004 to discuss a new location,” said Mary Francis Cooper, of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, to the crowd. “We wanted to move the library where more people shop, and live and help it be more successful.”
The Mt. Washington library is a historic landmark and The Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation said that whatever happens to the building nothing can happen to the exterior. The libraries in Lawrenceville and West End are also historical landmarks.
“It is beautiful on the inside and it was built about 100 years ago and we risk losing all of that history in the building,” said John Weinhold of Beechview.
“Everyone is going to deal with these losses differently. They are going to be mad at the city, RAD , even the state but we have to move on,” said Thinhes.
The meeting in Lawrenceville was held at St. Mary’s Lower Lyceum. Many citizens of Lawrenceville, Hazelwood and Beechview packed St. Mary’s and were not afraid to share their opinions.
“We are hoping they keep it open and that we deal with all the codes and make them accessible for everyone,” said Rev. Leslie Boone of Hazelwood. “We have many after school programs and we couldn’t have as many people here today because they are still in the library, and there is almost no way to get to other libraries.”
The Hazelwood library is the only library that is not owned by the city and has to pay rent.
“We can hopefully look at other locations where rent might not be as high,” said Boone.
The meeting in Lawrenceville lasted longer than two hours and many people shared their ideas to help keep the libraries open for example paying for memberships. Some even said that they moved to Lawrenceville because of their great library.
“We are committed to saving these libraries and hope that nothing will be there besides libraries,” said Ravenstahl.