Reading Condo

Reading Condo

One of Brooklyn’s many struggling public libraries is slated to be demolished to make way for the borough’s latest luxury high-rise. But the stacks will not disappear from Brooklyn Heights entirely; tucked into the ground floor of the Marvel Architects–designed tower that will rise in their place is a brand new 21,000-sqaure-foot public library. In mid-September, the library’s board of trustees unanimously voted in favor of the development, which would raise significant funds for its financially strained system.

Under the agreement, the trustees allowed the city to sell its land to the Hudson Companies, the project’s developer, for $52 million. As part of the deal, Hudson has agreed to build 114 affordable apartments within the branch’s community board district.

The tower’s design, though, is hard to decipher as the Brooklyn Public Library and Marvel Architects released two renderings that show two significantly different approaches. In one rendering, which is focused on the street level, the new library and the tower above appear to have a glass and stone facade.

In the other rendering, which shows the full height of the building at an oblique angle, the library looks to be enclosed in an all-glass facade. The glass extends up the elevation, which is punctuated with subtle setbacks. Those setbacks become more pronounced on the top four floors, creating what are likely terraces for the luxury apartments. Solid spandrels cut across the tower’s two main facades and flank its glassy edge. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that at a Community Advisory Council meeting in early October, Jonathan Marvel, the founder of Marvel Architects, explained that the designs were very preliminary and subject to change. 

While the design is not finalized, the project is reportedly expected to break ground in 2016.

The news of the deal, first reported by Capital New York, came just one day after the Center for an Urban Future released a report on the dire state of New York City’s public libraries. According to the center, the city’s library system (excluding the famous 5th Avenue branch) has over $1.1 billion in unmet capital funds, $300 million of which comes from Brooklyn branches. “More than half of the city’s 207 library buildings are over 50 years old and a quarter were built at least a century ago,” explained the center. “With such an aging building stock, it’s not surprising that the city’s libraries are on the verge of a maintenance crisis.”

As the libraries have been deteriorating, though, there has been an increase in the system’s overall use. According to the report, over the last decade, circulation was up by 46 percent and program attendance increased by 62 percent. The problem, explained the center, is that the system has to rely too heavily on discretionary funds from City Council members and borough presidents.

In recent years, though, as so many library branches were just scraping by, the city was allocating millions of dollars to Norman Foster’s controversial renovation of the system’s main branch. “More than half of the [Bloomberg] administration’s $257 million in appropriations since fiscal year 2010, for example, were directed toward that single project,” explained the center. The Foster plan has since been scrapped and most of the money will now go toward renovating the mid-Manhattan library.

Moving forward, the center suggested that the City Council and the mayor’s office should create a citywide capital plan for libraries with “dedicated capital allocation for repair and expansion of projects.” Prior to this report, in his first capital budget, the mayor did increase library funding from $205 million to $229 million and raised available operating funds from $301 million to $311 million.

To further raise money, the report endorsed exactly what the Brooklyn Public Library system is doing in Brooklyn Heights. “In a number of cases, rebuilding branches as a part of a larger development could be an effective way to reduce the costs of new construction, even while increasing the size of branches and improving the links between library buildings and the communities they serve,” explained the center. The report listed 10 sites where this type of development would be possible, and Brooklyn Heights was one of those mentioned.