Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Conundrum For Those Wanting To Donate To Libraries: People Who Would Use Our Donations To Shrink and Sell Off Libraries

Reading Citizens Defending Libraries flyer before entering  Friends of Brooklyn Heights Branch Library October 21st fund raising gala- Author Evan Hughs enters captured by Jonathan Barkey's photography
A good place to start this article is with the deliberate underfunding of New York City libraries by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg at a time of their greatly increasing use. . . 

At City Council budget hearings at the beginning of June, Anthony W. Marx and Linda Johnson, the respective heads of the New York Public Library and the Brooklyn Public Library, testified that they had a problem approaching donors asking that they give monies to fund the libraries because they cannot make a `credible’ case that any money given to the libraries by such donors will not be immediately subtracted out by Mayor Bloomberg in budget cuts to the system.  Citizens Defending Libraries (a group I helped found) followed up at that hearing with testimony that it was also not possible to make a credible case to potential donors that funds given to libraries would not be squandered in real estate deals as libraries like Donnell get sold off at a fraction of their value to the public.  (See: Testimony By Citizens Defending Libraries At June 5, 2013 City Council Committee Hearing On Library Budget Issues.)  Citizens Defending Libraries has also given similar testimony on more recent occasions.  (See: Testimony By Citizens Defending Libraries At June 27, 2013 State Assembly Committee Hearing On Selling New York City Libraries and Report on Monday, September 30th City Council Hearing On Sell-off of NYC Libraries Plus Testimony of Citizens Defending Libraries.)
Citizens Defending Libraries might have gone a step further in its testimony: Not only is it a concern that libraries paid for with taxpayer and charitable contributions will be wasted when libraries are sold; donors ought also be concerned that their donations will be directly used to sell, shrink and dismantle New York’s library system assets.

This was the concern raised by Citizens Defending Libraries when the Friends of Brooklyn Heights Branch Library held a fund raising gala event on October 21st that featured Evan Hughs, author of “Literary Brooklyn.”  See: ‘Literary Brooklyn’ gala celebrates 20 years of the Friends of the Brooklyn Heights Branch Library, by Samantha Samel & Mary Frost, Brooklyn Daily Eagle and Friends of Brooklyn Heights Branch Library to hold 20th Anniversary gala fundraiser, by Samantha Samel, October 17, 2013, Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

Why?   Because the Friends of Brooklyn Heights Branch Library holding the gala and taking donations from people wanting to “support” the library has been playing a key role in easing the path and moving forward the sale Brooklyn Heights library.  It has given cover to the Brooklyn Heights Association to similarly advance the probability of a sale with the BHA saying its is “simply supporting the position of the librarians and the Friends of the Library.” See: Saturday, April 13, 2013, Condoning The Sale and Shrinkage Of The Brooklyn Heights Library, Does The Brooklyn Heights Associations Think Of Friends Group As A Fig Leaf? It Should Think Again.

So it was that Citizens Defending Libraries handed out flyers to those entering the event, saying: “Please don’t allow your money be used to sell and shrink public libraries.”  

Citizens Defending Libraries flyer for event
It urged:
    •    Please donate money only on condition of its proper use-  Put the following restrictive endorsement on the back of the check for any donation you make: "This check may only be deposited on condition that the BPL not sell off libraries, The Brooklyn Heights and Pacific Libraries properties included."
And cautioned:
    •    If you give money to the Brooklyn Public Library and you do not make your gift upon such conditions you should assume that your money will be used to advance real estate deals that benefit developers, not the public.
The Friends group and the BHA take pains to distinguish that they are not supporting the sale and shrinkage of the library, asserting that they are only condoning or not opposing the sale, but that is a fine distinction that seeks to overlook the practical effect of their actions.  Meanwhile, there are attempts to represent that something quite the opposite is happening.  In its article about the gala the Brooklyn Eagle quotes Friends group president Deborah Hallen representing herself not as someone condoning the dismantling of the Brooklyn Heights Library but as a “watchdog” for the library:
Hallen said that FBHBL’s role is to be the best watchdog as possible for the Heights branch
My response as set forth in a comment to that Brooklyn Eagle article (some of which was also addressed in the flyer handed out that night):
President Hallen of FBHBL [the so-called “Friends” group] continues to play a duplicitous game when she  represents the “FBHBL’s role . . .to be the best watchdog as possible for the Heights branch.”

Ms. Hallen has never offered the clarification Citizens Defending Libraries has long requested: Does she believe that she and the FBHBL can oppose the BPL’s plan in any respect at all, or must she and the FBHBL support the BPL’s planned sale and shrinkage in all respects?   She has circulated guidance to the effect that the FBHBL cannot oppose the BPL’s plan in any respect at all, meaning that the FBHBL can’t complain about even the smallest detail of the BPL’s plans.  She has emailed her FBHBL trustees telling them in very emphatic and specific terms that they cannot oppose this sale-for-shrinkage of the library and that she wants resignations from any of the trustees who want to tell her “we need to stop the sale.”

It seems rather evident that Hallen favors the sale and looks for opportunities to drive it forward despite sometimes suggesting to people that she privately, in her personal capacity, opposes the sale and shrinkage but just can’t oppose it as part of the FBHBL group.  Why else would she seek to diminish reaction to the sale-for-shrinkage of the library by adopting and repromulgating the BPL’s talking point that the reduction from 63,000 square feet of space to just 20,000 square feet of space (one quarter of it underground) somehow won’t reduce the “usable” floor space?  Her careful parsing of language here, mimicking the BPL’s, is specifically meant to obfuscate for the casual reader that the planned sale-for-shrinkage envisions the eviction of the Business and Career Library portion of the library.  Thus she seeks to disregard what, even by her calculations, would be a 50% reduction of the library’s size.

The FBHBL’s role is obfuscation, not that of watchdog.  
Raising money for a library that is to be sold and shrunk?  It does seem odd.  The attempt to address the oddity came in the form of statements from Judy Stanton, Executive Director of the Brooklyn Heights Association, that the money was for “books.”  But this assertion takes on its own odd cast when you notice that books are disappearing from the shelves of the Brooklyn Heights library; The books that were previously there are not any longer as they make way for the pending real estate deal and shrinkage.  See: Saturday, September 14, 2013, Empty Bookshelves As Library Officials Formulate A New Vision of Libraries: A Vision Where The Real Estate Will Be Sold Off.

Just one of the many pictures in the linked to article of empty library shelves in the Brooklyn Heights library and in other NYC libraries being readied for sale
The Brooklyn Eagle said that at the event Mr. Hughs spoke about Norman Mailer’s “conviction that something important is always at stake in a book” and noted that “Libraries . . function with a similar standpoint.”  That said, with all the books that are disappearing and the dismantling of NYC libraries, a lot that is at stake is being lost.

There were reportedly 50 to 70 attendees at the Friends gala.  Many of them were appreciative of the points raised in the Citizens Defending Libraries flyer, with a fair number seeming surprised to think about the information and points presented.  A few attending were from Citizens Defending Libraries.  Outside, Citizens Defending Libraries may have collected more new signatures for its petition than there were people attending the event, though that wasn't the original intention of the evening.  Most people in Brooklyn Heights oppose the sale of their library, probably well over 95%, but there are still many people who still do not know that libraries are being sold off.  Even so, even as the gala was going on, you could look in the window of the library to see the empty shelves cleared of books.
The absence of books in the library can be seen from the street at night when the library is closed.  If and when the library is actually sold off to a developer for development will we look in to see worse?
It is not just giving money in Brooklyn that poses a concern.  Donated money and taxpayer dollars are being used to fund the efforts to sell off libraries in Manhattan.  The sale of the very important and beloved Donnell library paved the way for more library sales and shrinkage by the New York Public Library with the proposed consolidating shrinkage of its Central Library Plan, recently redubbed the “42nd Street Library Renovation.”  The plan is now in disarray with nothing workable currently before the public because activists were able to bring attention to how rushed and poorly conceived it was.  Nevertheless, the NYPL has hired a very high-priced lobbyists, the Parkside Group, to promote what currently is impossible to identify as anything but just a library sell-off and shrinkage. (See: New York Public Library Hires Firm to Promote Renovation Plan, by Robin Pogrebin, October 24, 2013)

One of the reader comments to the article:
I really hope it's not donor $$ that's being used for this PR campaign.
My response:
It is donor money. And taxpayer money too.
Citizens Defending Libraries testified at the City Council hearing on the selling off of the libraries about the impropriety of using such money for lobbying and compared it to situations where the New York State Attorney General has investigated in the past.  (See: Report on Monday, September 30th City Council Hearing On Sell-off of NYC Libraries Plus Testimony of Citizens Defending Libraries.)

Another reader, Susan Bernofsky, commented as follows:
What a shockingly poor use of the library's resources. At a time when our libraries are in crisis, NYPL is handing over a nice fat wad to a consulting firm that will not help improve the library in any way, it'll just help the Board of Trustees sugar-coat a plan that the community has been opposing because it's bad for the community. Vote of no confidence!
How much donor and taxpayer money will be directed to this high priced lobbyist?  The word is that the initial contract is structured to fly low on the radar screen stated to be apparently lower payments, but one suspicious reader providing a link says this:
$25,000? You know, that's just their retainer. Monthly.
The article doesn't make this fact clear.


Powerful, politically-connected lobbying firms like the Parkside Group don't come cheap; you know that's one fat contract. As a retired PR professional, I'd put the Library's annual outlay for their services at a minimum of $1.5 - 2 Million --Likely more; even as high as 5M.

Do you remember the New York Public Library begging the public for contributions about six months ago? Now we know what they're spending our money on. It sure isn't on books, computers, librarians or longer hours at my branch.

This is truly a sad, sad state of affairs.
How outrageous can it get in tracing donations back to those who would put their efforts behind selling off New York’s libraries?  There is another evening gala fund raising event coming up on Monday, November 4th.  This one is held being held by the NYPL, its annual Library Lions Gala.   Most of the honorees like “Stephen Sondheim, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony award-winning composer and lyricist” are pretty noncontroversial, but the headliner for the evening is none other than “Michael R. Bloomberg, Mayor of the City of New York.”

Telling you to "DONATE NOW" the NYPL's webpage for the November 4th Library Lions event noting that it will be honoring library defunder Michael Bloomberg as the headliner above other honorees Katherine Boo, Helen Bernstein,  Junot Diaz, Marilynne Robinson and Stephen Sondheim
Remember how I said that Mayor Bloomberg’s deliberate underfunding of the libraries at a time of increasing use was good place to beginning this article?  Well it is also a good place to end this article.

Scott Sherman, in his recent article for the Nation (The Hidden History of New York City’s Central Library Plan- Why did one of the world’s greatest libraries adopt a $300 million transformation without any real public debate? August 28, 2013) was able to inform us, based his review of the NYPL’s minutes, that in the summer of 2007 (before Donnell was sold) the Bloomberg administration, including in the person of Bloomberg’s chief adviser and political strategist, First Deputy Mayor Patricia Harris, blessed the consolidating shrinkage of the library sales with indication of its enthusiasm.

It was afterwards that the mayor cut library funding way back to an astoundingly low level.  That low level of funding is now cited as a rationale for the selling off of New York City’s libraries.
From the pen of Mark Hurwitt
And now, at a fund raising event, an event where people will be asked to give money to support the libraries, the principal honoree will be Mr. Bloomberg himself, the defunder of libraries!  Does NYPL president Anthony Marx not remember the testimony he delivered before the City Council in June?  Does he not remember expressing how difficult it was to deliver potential donors ‘credible’ assurance that their money will be properly used?
Mayoral candidate de Blasio with Citizens Defending Libraries at 42nd Street library in July
The November 4th event is the evening before election day!  Presumably, the election of Bill de Blasio the next day will be viewed as a profound rejection of the Bloomberg legacy.  Mr. de Blasio has called for a halt to the sale of New York City's libraries.  See: PHOTOS & VIDEO & MORE- First half of July 2013: Two lawsuits against the Central Library Plan, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio Comes Out Against CLP.  The NYPL says it won't be producing any new plans to sell off and shrink libraries until after Mr. de Blasio takes office.
Author Evan Hughs enters to speak at the gala

Friday, October 25, 2013

Update On Cuomo Corruption Investigation’s Nonissuance of Subpoenas- More Subpoenas Are going Out, Just Not To REBNY

Earlier this month, October 14th, I wrote here in Noticing New York:
sometimes what is most important for you to know about government is not what’s being done, but what is not being done
I was writing about reports that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was restraining the 25-member Moreland Commission he had created to investigate corruption and misconduct of Albany public officials from issuing subpoenas to investigate exactly what the commission was created to investigate.  See: Monday, October 14, 2013, Governor Andrew Cuomo Quashes Moreland Commission’s REBNY Subpoena and Other Follow-The-Money Subpoenas Hitting Too Close To Home.

Well, I am going to say it again: There is an update to the situation I reported on back then, but it is still true that sometimes what is most important for you to know about government is not what’s being done, but what is not being done.

At almost the exact same time I put up my Noticing New York analysis of the situation the New York Times ran a Michael Powell column similarly assessing the situation.  See: Gotham-Governor’s Crusade Against Corruption Comes With Too Many Asterisks, October 14, 2013.

Mr Powell observed how the representations that the commission would be the “the best, the grandest ever” and that “Anti-corruption, campaign finance, transparency and courage would be its watch words” came with too many undermining asterisk exceptions when tested against the reality being delivered.  Powell noted, as had Noticing New York, the Governor’s interference with the issuance of the following subpoenas:
    •    “the Real Estate Board of New York, which helped lobby for multimillion-dollar special tax abatements” apparently, “a rude step too far”

    •    “the state Democratic Party committee, which represents the politicians who control two and a half of the three wings of New York government.”  Mr. Powell observed that, by contrast, the investigation “will scrutinize accounts belonging to the Senate Republican campaign committee and Independence Party.”
In addition, Powell (not Noticing New York) noted the absence of a subpoena for:
    •     “the governor’s Committee to Save New York, the fund-raising vehicle by which the state’s larger corporate, real estate and gambling barons raised $17 million to express their adoration and support for Mr. Cuomo’s efforts to cut taxes and promote casino gambling. Purely by chance, this committee shut down its operations less than two months ago, which means there is no longer an organization to subpoena. `We felt our mission was accomplished,’ the committee’s director said.”
Noticing New York (but not Powell) noted the absence of a subpoenas for the:
    •    Ethics Commission and the Legislative Ethics Commission- (This subpoena employed the smart strategy of looking for prior complaints against legislators as pointers to what needs to be looked into).
A lot of good investigative reporting work pursuing the trail of the quashed subpoenas has been done by Ken Lovett, Albany bureau chief for The Daily News, a fact alluded to in Powell’s column.  The last Noticing New York article on this subject included a very good interview of Mr. Lovett by WNYC’s Brian Lehrer.  Even Mother Jones jumped onto reporting bandwagon.  See: Andrew Cuomo's Much-Touted Corruption Watchdog Is Beginning to Look Like a Joke, by Andy Kroll, Oct. 8, 2013.

In addition, (previously overlooked here) the New York Times editorial board weighed in the day before the excoriating Powell column: Editorial- Will New York’s Political Watchdog Pass the Test? By The Editorial Board, October 13, 2013.

All this reporting and focus may have gotten a reaction from the Governor.  The day after the Noticing New York and Powell pieces ran the Commission reconsidered and decided to move forward in issuing the subpoena for the State Democratic Party that Cuomo was previously reported to have suppressed, together with “subpoenas to some businesses that employ legislators.”   (See: Panel to Investigate State Democratic Party, by Thomas Kaplan, October 15, 2013.)

According to the Daily News:
The actions by the commission took place just hours after Attorney General Eric Schneiderman--who deputized the 25 members of the commission--told public radio that the panel should not be interfered with when asked about the Cuomo reports.

"To succeed, the commission has to be independent and has to follow the money wherever it goes," Schneiderman said.
(See:EXCLUSIVE: Anti-Corruption Commission Sending Subpoenas To Gov. Cuomo-Tied Entities- Gov. Cuomo’s anti-corruption commission has reversed itself and will now send subpoenas to the state Democratic party and other entities tied to the governor, the Daily News has learned, by Ken Lovett, October 15, 2013.)

All of this is well enough, but as I began by saying, what is likely most important to look at is what is not happening, and that is the subpoena to REBNY, the Real Estate Board of New York.    Said the New York Times in its October 13th editorial:
What’s distressing about this news is that the commissioners got off to a good start. They were investigating developers of high-end apartments to find out how lucrative tax breaks were mysteriously slipped into budget bills. Then, suddenly, the commission stalled.
The Times went on to worry that the commission’s Cuomo-induced omissions would:
destroy the confidence of an already wary public that anything meaningful can be done to curb the way money corrupts politics in Albany.  
The previous, more in depth, Noticing New York article noted speculations about where a REBNY subpoena would lead: very important places, including possibly to Assembly Speaker Sheldon and maybe Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos, among others.  The multi-million dollar tax exemptions that were granted are a massive money trail.

The latest?  As of the beginning of this week Cuomo was dressing himself up as a hero with respect to the subpoenas the commission has issued, predicting they would be fought by an antagonized legislature.  See: Gov. Cuomo Expects Challenges To Anti-Corruption Commission Subpoenas, by Ken Lovett, October 21, 2013.

So, with the latest news the commission is investigating and subpoenaing the State Democratic Party, the Senate Republican campaign committee and the Independence Party, but still not REBNY.  By taking our cues from what is not being done, does that mean that REBNY, the Real Estate Board of New York, as the last untouchable, is more powerful than the Democratic, Republican and Independence parties?  Surprise, surprise!  There are, after all, those who would have always maintained that the way things are run in New York REBNY must be the real power in charge.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Michael Kimmelman’s Scary Tightrope Act On Library Design: A Dance With The PR Machine Of Library Officials Intent On Selling Off Libraries

Michael Kimmelman, architectural critic for the New York Times, has a new piece on libraries in today’s paper.  I think it somewhat pulls off his apparent purpose in the end, but it is a nerve-wracking read, embarking on a dangerous undertaking.  He is writing about the “out-of-the-box” (gag me with a spoon) idea of using New York City libraries as “cooling centers,”  “cooling stations” and hurricane/emergency relief centers.  As everyone knows, this old PR meme is something library administration officials have been pushing to confuse the library real estate sell-off debate going on back at least to the announcement of many of those library sales at very beginning of this year, with library sell-off advocates like City Councilman Brad Lander carrying their water on this PR topic with smug, prearranged `cleverness.’

What’s wrong with this kernel of a good idea?  Everyone knows that going back to the sudden secretive sale of the Donnell Library there hasn’t been a library that library administration officials have wanted to sell or destroy (including the stacks of the 42nd Street Central Reference Library) where they don’t blame theoretically problematic air conditioning.  They argue that the air conditioning can’t be fixed, but must be fixed, so they say that the ownership of the real estate must be turned over to developers.  Witness the current shenanigans respecting the intentional overestimation of air conditioning repair costs and refusal to repair the air conditioning with respect to the Brooklyn Heights Library.  The air conditioning `broke down' just months before Brooklyn Public Library officials were about to make public their longstanding (going back to 2008) secret plans to sell that library.

In the end, Kimmelman pulls out of what might have been a nosedive all the way to the very bottom of the NYPL’s PR maw with the following:
Disasters aside, branch libraries are a safe and equitable bet on our social and economic health. Trustees at the always tin-cup-wielding New York Public Library are now pondering a $300 million renovation scheme for its 42nd Street landmark. (Bill de Blasio, the Democratic candidate for mayor, told me recently that if elected, he would take a second look at the Bloomberg administration’s promise of $150 million in taxpayer money toward that renovation.)
In other words, library administration officials promoting these real estate deals are spending public taxpayer money, at least $150 million of it, very foolishly.

Yes, in the end, it’s a reasonably good idea to think in terms of using libraries, or at least some of them, for some disaster-relief functions, even if it is a distracting idea, but . . .  disaster relief obviously isn’t, and shouldn’t be, the primary purpose of libraries.  

Here’s a link to the Kimmelman’s story: Critic’s Notebook, Next Time, Libraries Could Be Our Shelters From the Storm.  More important, here is Kimmelman’s original famous critique of that "Central Library Plan" (CLP), now for PR purposes being rechristened "The 42nd Street Library Renovation Plan" (Said NYPL COO David Offensend on September 25th, the day the new name was launched at the NYPL's Trustees meeting- "It's the same plan"): Critic’s Notebook- In Renderings for a Library Landmark, Stacks of Questions, by Michael Kimmelman, January 29, 2013.

While deciding that libraries can double as disaster centers could allow for some sensible efficiencies in facing certain scale disasters, the idea could also be criticized as being a piece with the across-the board, general and extreme reductions of social services and government functions and their sometimes transfer to private ownership or to other, less well-equipped branches of the government.  Like Republican calls for elimination of FEMA, these are notions the 1% are too quick to promote.  Everyone remembers Grover Norquist's expression of his fondest wishto get the government “down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”

In that regard, just as the primary purpose of a library should, first and foremost, be to be a library, we should also be thinking in terms of our disaster relief centers truly being what they ought to be.

Library and city officials wanting to sell off library real estate have ventured into the realm of laughability as they busily make arguments that libraries can be much, much smaller if the use of library space can be conceived of as being infinitely flexible.  See:  Thursday, April 25, 2013, Building a “Murphy Library.”
Murphy Bed to Murphy Library?
We want to shrink libraries down by having them be ever more flexible, but then, on top of that, these shrunken libraries should now take on still another additional function, that of disaster relief?

How does the idea that libraries will be our havens in a storm work if we are at the same time selling off our significant library spaces, selling Donnell, selling Mid-Manhattan, selling the Science, Industry and Business Library (SIBL), selling the Brooklyn Heights Library (which was designed with a bomb shelter intending that it have a disaster relief function to capitalize on)?  How will the many Manhattanites be accommodated for relief in a disaster when the NYPL's Central Library Plan takes more than 380,000 square feet of library space and reduces it to a mere 80,000 square feet in the back of the Central Research Library 42nd Street building accessible through just one small door?

To conclude on the topic of how library air conditioning is being used as a routine excuse to sell libraries: This past Monday there was a City Council hearing on the subject of selling New York City's libraries.  It was chaired by City Council member Jimmy Van Bramer from Queens who favors the proposed sale of New York City's libraries, thus putting him in disagreement with Citizens Defending Libraries and its petition calling for a halt to these sales. Citizens Defending Libraries delivered much testimony at that hearing which will all soon be up on line.  Here is a piece of Citizens Defending Libraries testimony that dealt with air conditioning as an excuse to sell libraries to developers.   

September 30, 2013

James G. Van Bramer, Chair
Committee on Cultural Affairs,
   Libraries and International Intergroup Relations
250 Broadway, Committee Rm 16th Fl
New York, NY 10017

Re:    Agency Oversight Hearings on capital construction needs and the potential disposal of libraries in New York City

Dear Committee:

We are here to say yet again we need a “cooling off” period. . .
. . .  We need a moratorium on the selling off of the library system’s best and most valuable assets until more is known about the questionable reasons being given for why the best real estate needs to be sold off to developers.

We need a “cooling off” period because every time they want to sell libraries, often recently renovated ones, they seem to find an insurmountable problem with the library’s air conditioning system.  It’s highly suspicious!

Whenever library officials want to push a library out the door as a real estate deal they find air conditioning problems a handy complaint.
    •    The reason Donnell Library needed to be closed, sold and shrunk?  An air conditioning problem!  To sell a whole library?  At a considerable loss to the public because the NYPL netted less than $39 million for the 97,000 square foot library?  By way of reference, much of that library had been recently renovated, the auditorium, the Teen Center, and in November of 2001 a new 14,500 sq ft state-of-the-art media center paid for by the City and State of New York.  That complete and extensive renovation included new air conditioning for about 15% of Donnell’s space. It cost $1 million.  While that much of the building had been so recently renovated for so little (and other recent renovations of more space were in place) the NYPL provided cover for the announcement its announcement of Donnell’s sale in 2007 estimating that renovation of the rest of the building would cost $48 million!  

    •    Why demolish the historic research book stack system at the Tilden Astor Central Reference Library at 42nd Street?   According to the NYPL. . . An air conditioning problem!

    •    Need to sell off and shrink the Brooklyn Heights branch and Business and Career library?   According to the BPL . . . .An air conditioning problem!

    •    Sell the historic Pacific Branch? An air conditioning problem!  Want to sell off a lot of libraries in Brooklyn?  Announce that a lot of them have air conditioning problems and start closing them in the summer!     See: More libraries fall as heat nears 100 degrees, By Mary Frost, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 6, 2012.
Highly suspicious.  We need an audit!

The Brooklyn Public Library announced that it wanted to sell the Brooklyn Heights Library because of the condition of the air conditioning this January but the plan and decision to sell the library go back to at least 2008.  The air conditioning breakdown that `couldn’t be fixed’ didn’t occur until summer, 2012, right in time to announce the library’s sale to the public.

Although the public was told that the air conditioning was the reason to sell the library in January of 2013, library administration and city officials withheld information about exactly what was supposedly wrong with the air conditioning until mid-June, days before an RFP (Request For Proposals) to sell the library (because of the “air conditioning”!) was sent out.  The withheld information finally released was simply a July 12, 2012 DDC Construction Report but even then the requested cost estimates that had been cited in the press all along were still withheld.  When these documents were requested from the Brooklyn Public Library they referred our representatives over to DDC (New York City Department of Design and Construction) and when the DDC was requested to give up these documents they referred our representatives back over to the BPL.  To date they haven’t been produced.

In substitution therefor the BPL has produced another in a series of escalating estimates of the cost of repairing the air conditioning.  A repair that was once estimated to cost $700,000 or substantially less went to $750,000 and from there to $3 million, then to $3.5 million.  The official estimate has now recently escalated to between $4.5 and $5 million (and is apparently at odds with previous engineering assessments).  You know that they are reaching to find costs because both the architect delivering the estimate and Brooklyn Public Library spokesperson are saying that one of the hard-to-meet challenges in fixing the system is all the heat that modern-day computers are throwing off.  These modern-day computers are also being blamed by the BPL for making the library too expensive to repair in another way: It would be far too expensive to supply them with the electricity they need!

Further, the most recent estimate, disingenuous on its face, calls for fixing air conditioning that isn’t broken and for air conditioning more space than actually required. 
We need an audit and we need a “cooling off” period until that audit is completed and the mind-set of library and city officials is no longer one that prioritizes creating real estate deals for developers!  Remember: These breakdowns accompanied by inflated repair estimates only came after the decision to the sell the library.


                            Citizens Defending Libraries