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Kew Gardens Hills library rehab part of building spurt in system

Lawmakers and representatives from the Queens Public Library and city wield ceremonial shovels at a ground breaking ceremony. Photo by Joe Anuta
TimesLedger Newspapers

Lawmakers kicked off the expansion of the Kew Garden Hills library last Friday as part of a decade-long capital spending boom that has forged ahead despite budget cuts to operating costs.

The $10 million project will completely transform the book lending institution, at 72-33 Vleigh Place, by expanding its footprint by 3,000-square feet and building a new, stylish front facade and entryway. The refurbished building will feature twice the number of computers, an expanded meeting room, a state-of-the-art self-checkout system and round-the-clock check-in, a library spokeswoman said.

The refurbished space is set to open in 2015. In the meantime, library patrons will have access to a temporary lending location at 71-35 Main St., across the street.

The library’s overhaul is part of a capital spending boom that began nearly a decade ago, according to Thomas Galante, president of Queens Library.

In the last nine years, the Queens Public Library has secured $300 million in capital money from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the borough president and the borough’s City Council delegation, some of which is still wending its way into the system’s coffers, Galante said. The boom represents about five to six times the historical funding level, according to Galante.

“This is more than we’ve had in the last 30 years,” he said. “With capital funding, we’ve had good success.”

Borough President Helen Marshall allocated $8 million for the Kew Gardens Hills library expansion — a pet project of the late activist Pat Dolan, whose face adorns a plaque inside the building. City Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) and state Sens. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) and Michael Simanowitz (D-Electchester) also chipped in.

Overall, Marshall has allocated $117 million to borough libraries since taking office more than 12 years ago, her office said.

But the borough, and libraries in general, have been suffering from cuts to their operating budgets.

Queens Library is primarily funded by the city, according to Galante, with a small percentage of funds coming from state or federal sources. This year, the borough library system is set to lose $30 million in operating costs, according to Galante, in what has become a routine round of annual belt tightening on the city level.

These cuts in operating costs have translated to a drop in service hours over the years.

So while the capital expenditure boom has resulted in 10 to 15 complete library renovations, according to Galante, many libraries cannot afford to stay open seven days a week.

City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), a former employee of the library, said the operating budget needs to keep pace with the capital budget.

“We should not subject staff to fluctuations like that,” he said. “There is no point in having additional space unless you can staff it.”

On top of the cuts, Marshall has also repeatedly criticized the Bloomberg administration for not giving the borough its fair share.

In the preliminary budget for the upcoming fiscal year, Marshall’s office estimates the borough will be shortchanged by $2.2 million — a conclusion reached by comparing the use of the libraries and the funding to other boroughs.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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