Sunday, March 16, 2008

Genevieve Wilk - Start over with library plan

From the Phoenix newspaper:

Start over with library plan

The current library plan for expansion should be abandoned and the process started over. It has been handled in a top-down and secretive manner which is out of step with the times. It belongs to another era, where projects that affected the citizenry were foisted on them without input.

The library exists for the public good. The necessity for more space is apparent. No one will argue that point. However, the tactics used by the planners are old-school, and do nothing to come up with a solution that is acceptable to all. The last meeting at the library, by reservation only (really), was held with little notice. None of the immediate neighbors on Second Avenue were notified directly, including my mother, who has lived there for over 50 years. And the reason for this became apparent: The current “concept” drawing shows that Park Alley behind the library has been widened. This widening was not on previous drawings, including the ones that were actually voted on by the boards and Borough Council. (In fact, when asked at a prior meeting about fire truck access down that alley, the questioner was assured that Park Alley was okay for fire trucks without widening) This removing of at least 5 feet of private property from a very narrow piece of land, had been added to the “concept”. It was only after repeated questioning that the planner stated that a property owner “does and does not own” their private property. A brief description of eminent domain then ensued. Threatening an elderly homeowner with seizure of her property at an informational meeting is unconscionable.

The library planners had decided that not only a public thoroughfare, Second Avenue, should be blockaded with this monster building, causing already busy streets to take on more traffic (and even more in the future as the town grows). They also decided that private property will also be taken, by eminent domain. And the Borough had not even approved the most recent plan. The Borough voted on a previous plan which did not include land seizure. This should send alarm bells through the citizenry.

Obviously, the meetings were held to get a vote on the project and to move it forward, not to address the public’s concerns. The worst offense was the method used to get the various votes passed. By using the word “concept” the planners could offer up vague notions of what they were planning to do. A consistent, completed plan was not offered for review, or vote. Now the “concept” is looking for funding. What other changes are they going to spring on the public next?

The first plan involved injecting the library into the park, then morphed into a library abutting the park. What is the insistence with getting that library to attach itself to Reeves Park? It is a one note tune sung off-key. Why does the historical significance of a Carnegie Library trump the historical significance of all else in that neighborhood, including the park itself. It is already starting to pit people against each other. This insistence of only one possible solution to the library’s obvious space problems is blocking the way to a creative solution that is reached by working with the public, rather than excluding them.

This type of project has been done in other towns by encouraging the public to have an active role in the entire process. The public should decide what it wants in the public library, and what to do about the space issue. This could be a wonderful educational opportunity for children in the town; there could be an open competiton where various plans submitted are reviewed and voted on by all to narrow down the field, with final decision by a panel; creative architects can work within space allowed, that is what good architects do. All options could be discussed: branch library, building on other sites, working on the current land owned by the library, green building requirements, etc.. Creative architects would work within given parameters, including land restrictions, that is what good architects do. These parameter would be determined by public input. It takes more time upfront, but the results are worth it.

This has been shown to work. All possible options are viewed, and major problems addressed before a drawing is even started. For the reasons given above, I think the library “concept” plan is a flawed one and should be scrapped. They should get back to the drawing board, but not before the public, who the library serves, offers their suggestions and feedback. With the public involved in the entire process, not left out as bystanders, an acceptable solution to the space problems of the Phoenixville Library can be worked out.

Genevieve Wilk

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