Officials break ground for Brooklyn Public Library Greenpoint Branch

Library to provide mobile book service, pop up locations to fill gap

October 24, 2017 By Andy Katz Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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An impressive array of Brooklyn political and cultural leadership gathered at the corner of Norman and Leonard avenues on Monday to break ground for construction of a new Greenpoint branch of the Brooklyn Public Library.

Joining Brooklyn Library President and CEO Linda Johnson were state Assemblymember Joe Lentol (D-North Brooklyn), City Councilmembers Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Queens) and Stephen Levin (D-Williamsburg-Greenpoint-Brooklyn Heights), Deputy Borough President Diana Reyna, Peter Washburn of the state Attorney General’s Office and partners from architects Marble Fairbanks. Their task was to turn over the first bits of soil that will eventually comprise a versatile, 14,000-square-foot, multi-level education center designed to serve North Brooklyn residents of all ages and educational levels.

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“This project is LEED Certified from the get go,” explained Westerman Construction superintendent, Eric Santiago. Santiago will oversee the construction from grounding breaking to the final ribbon cutting, which planners believe will take about 18 months. “For example,” Santiago continued, “we’re using the rubble from the previous library to build this one. Eventually two of the roofs will be planted to absorb rain water and runoff.”

When asked if the Greenpoint Library was slated to achieve LEED Gold certification — one of the highest rankings in the green-building ranking system — Santiago smiled: “Gold is awfully hard to do. But you never know….”

“LEED Silver certification is our baseline,” insisted architects Scott Marble, Nicholas Desbiens and Jason Roberts. “We’ve been attending community board meetings,” Roberts added, “listening to what people have to say. We’ve even presented a virtual reality tour, allowing people to wear goggles and thus appear inside the completed library.”

Shortly before the hardhats were distributed and shovels hefted, about 20 students from nearby P.S. 34 filed into the site. Many were clearly excited at the idea of taking part in building something as portentous as a public library. Further down the line, the plan will be for them to produce a time capsule sealed into the library’s foundation for excavation at a much later date.

Three of the fifth-grade girls sported P.S. 34 press badges. Right away they started interviewing officials.

“This is by far the busiest branch in Brooklyn,” North Brooklyn Development Corporation General Administrator Richard Mazur confirmed to one young reporter.

This new branch of the Brooklyn Public Library in Greenpoint is the single largest beneficiary of the Greenpoint Community Environmental Fund (GCEF), a $19.5 million settlement between the New York Attorney General’s Office and Exxon-Mobile, which was found liable for the massive Greenpoint oil spill. The library will receive $5 million from GCEF, along with $1.8 million from the state Department of Education and $14 million in library and city capital funding.

Given the scope of environmental damage wreaked by Exxon-Mobile, it should come as no surprise that some members of the community weren’t completely satisfied with a new library as sufficient remediation.

“We are very happy to have the new library, don’t get me wrong,” explained Karla Villasenor-Held, who has lived in Greenpoint for 15 years and whose daughter, Ixchel, was one of P.S. 34’s student journalists. “But I wish they’d do more to clean up the pollution they cause. The money they spend here is tiny compared to their profits, so it seems like it’s all public relations.”

“These are the kids who are going to protect the environment in the future,” said Lentol. “And they’re going to learn how to do it right here.”

Even if the new building is nothing more than an entry in Exxon-Mobile’s public relations budget, the library — re-imagined as an Environmental Education Center — will provide a way to educate a community built on one of the most toxic surfaces in North America, and, if Kingsland Wildflowers Rooftop is any example, eventually provide a gathering place for community activists to continue their work in healing this damaged ground.

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