Saturday, February 7, 2009

Anonymous gift to Phoenixville's Library offers an opportunity as well as an alternative to closing Second Avenue

A generous donation of $500,000 to Phoenixville Library presents an excellent opportunity to the library board to change their expansion plans to the building on Second Avenue.

The anonymous donor has indicated his support for the expansion of the library, noting, the library's "...down-home, friendly atmosphere.". He further stated, "Preserving the original Carnegie Library — that's what needs to be done."

With those two particular intentions in mind, the pledge, in addition to promised public funding from the state, would total approximately $1,000,000. This sum could start a trust fund to preserve and maintain the library in it's current location at the intersection of Second Avenue and Main Street. Fundraising of the announced approximately $6,500,000 needed for the expansion project could then be directed for the development of a completely new campus in another location.

Recently, the library has come under fire for plans which would close off Second Avenue by building a three story addition across Second Avenue. As a main artery from Starr Street to Nutt Road, the closure of the street and the impact of a huge extension would change the flow of traffic, delay emergency services, affect the quality of life of the neighborhood, and lower property values of the nearby homes. In addition, the current library plan does not provide for any additional parking which is a requirement for new development in Phoenixville. Second Avenue behind the proposed building would become a parking lot for the library and gridlock the entire neighborhood.

With almost 200,000 visits by library patrons in the past year, the number of visits are projected to escalate as more homes are built in the borough and surrounding townships, thereby increasing the traffic and parking burden on neighborhoods adjacent to the library.

The Phoenixville Public Library has outgrown the building.

I believe the supportive neighbors stand ready, as always, to encourage the library in it's endeavors if the right plan for expansion is in place.

Using the funds in a manner to preserve and maintain the current building while developing plans to build a much needed library campus with adequate parking would continue the down-home, friendly atmosphere with the neighbors while providing a new facility which will service the entire community without placing the entire burden of expansion on the neighborhood residents.

Many suggestions have been made over the last two years to redirect the scope of library's expansion, to no avail.

The news of the anonymous gift presents yet another viable alternative to the library board to serve the entire community including the neighborhoods surrounding the library.


Anonymous donor pledges $500K+ to Phoenixville Library

Saturday, February 7, 2009 6:14 AM EST

By G.E. Lawrence

PHOENIXVILLE — The Phoenixville Public Library has received from a private donor a gift of cash and securities valued at between $500,000 and $600,000 for its planned expansion project.

Library Executive Director John Kelley said, "as far as I am aware," the gift is the "largest single private gift from an individual" since Andrew Carnegie gave the community the original building at Main Street and Second Avenue, in 1903.

"It's a pleasure to do this," said the donor in an interview Wednesday. "This Library is an unbelieveably wonderful place. They've done such a good job here," he said.

His gift supports the proposed renovation and expansion of library facilities, which have been under preliminary discussion over the last two years.

He agreed to speak about his participation in the project on the condition that his anonymity be guarded.

"I always felt they had to enlarge," he said. "This idea [the expansion proposal] is the perfect thing to do. The place has grown with the times, and with technology, and it has to be able to continue to do that. But this library's never lost that down-home, friendly atmosphere."

The donor, Phoenixville born and bred, has known that atmosphere for many decades. The gift is tied not just to the present and to an anticipated future, but to memories as well. It is tied, importantly, to Depression-era memories.

"There wasn't any money to buy books then, of course. There was a story hour on Saturdays, and I could always bring a book home for the evening. It was an important place for us."

And tied to the library he has remained since. As has his family: the gift is in important respects a family affair. "They're all involved in this. They all know how much I love the library."

The proposed expansion extends the footprint of the library across Second Avenue to the edge of Reeves Park. New construction of a three-floor addition to the Carnegie building will also incorporate major renovation of the library's 1987 wing.

Among the features of the proposed new building are a greatly-expanded children's library, space for young adult readers, new space for public meetings, for materials collection increases and computer information access and for staff services.

The donor had been aware of the expansion discussions, and "marveled at what was proposed" in the most recent plans prepared by Carnevale Eustis Architects of Phoenixville.

"I've been talking to [library officials] about the project for quite some time," he said. "The library's always been a community focus. And it is where it should be in town," next to Reeves Park. "Preserving the original Carnegie Library — that's what needs to be done."

The original portion of the library is a building funded, and built to the specifications of, industrialist and philanthropist Carnegie, as part of a nationwide library building program. Phoenixville's Carnegie is the last remaining in Chester County.

Preserving the Carnegie Library was the first of the donor's priorities in the project. The second, he said, was the plan's recognition that "the library complements the park, rather than detracts from it.

"You just have to see kids here, especially in the summer, in the library and in the park, to see how important this is.

"I've made out pretty good, and wanted to help out," he said simply.

His gift, and an additional $500,000 promised in public funds from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, enables the library "to begin with over $1 million" dedicated to the project, Kelley said.


Genevieve said...

I recently contacted the Office of the Budget which administers the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Project Grant. In a letter from their Right to Know official, I was informed that "the Commonwealth has not actually granted those funds to the Foundation." According to the letter, they have not yet submitted a grant application for review. What goes on here? Why are they making the claim that they got a half million dollar grant, when the agency responsible for it knows nothing about it? Are they in wishful thinking mode, like they were when they said it was a "walk-to library" and a "sit-in-the-park-after-visiting library"(both of which by the way were refuted by their own traffic study).
Or are they playing the both sides towards the middle game, where they say they have a grant so that someone will donate; and someone (anonymous of course) says they will donate so that they can get a grant for matching funds? A nonexistent state grant and an anonymous pledge. Great start.

Ed Naratil said...

Congrats to the person who donated the half million dollars. Now if we could only convince the library to buy the properties to the North and expand that way instead of closing off Second Avenue.

Plans for diagonal parking in front of the library are ridicules also. Sure you can put more cars per linear feet, but you will also cut down the width of the roadway. Cars will not be allowed to park on the West side of Main Street in this area. So what is gained? Nothing - parking places will be LOST!

The existing plan will require water and sewer lines that are under 2nd Ave to be relocated before the extension can be built. Who's paying for that? The taxpayers of Phoenixville?

There are many other flaws in this plan.

Citizens make your voice heard!

Karen said...

Newsworthy revelation, Genevieve, and great detective work.

In addition to the adverse impact of the scope and magnitude of the project on the surrounding neighborhoods, frustration continues to mount due to the uncompromising, unrelenting attitude of the library board.

Directly from the initial meeting several years ago, the plan was presented as the ONLY plan although discussion on the development was permitted.

Suggestions regarding a new branch facility including shared space in the original building with another entity, or developing a plan with an entirely new library campus were dismissed by use of a threat of losing funding from the school district.

This entire situation has not been condusive to placing trust in the expansion project. For example, one meeting notice was never delivered to the neighbors, and we learned a recent survey mentioned at a Planning Commission meeting was distributed at the library to the general public, but was never delivered to the neighbors for our opinions.

The neighbors have been approached with an offer for a non-public meeting with library board members, and we recently learned of a request to Phoenixville Borough Council by John Kelly, library director, to conduct small group meetings on the plan with Council which were decried by a Council Member as "secret meetings".

The subject of "secret meetings" will be discussed at Council's Committee meeting on February 24th at 7 p.m.

The alleged additional news of a non-existent state grant further detracts from the integrity of the process in the current library expansion plan and places it dangerously close to a miscarriage of public trust.

Thank you for sharing this information.

Genevieve said...

Just to give a timeframe regarding the grant...The letter I received from the Office of the Budget was dated December 24, 2008, well after the public announcement date of November 6, 2008.

Karen said...

Thank you for that further clarification, Genevieve.

Would that all communication between the public, all levels of government, any entity receiving public monies, developers or anyone capable of impacting the lives of citizenry be the same.

Thank you, again.

Anonymous said...

Wow, That is wonderful. If the HGC kept the anonymous gift from one member if they did not sell the property, they would not have needed Evens to buy the front yard!

If God is on your side you do get what you pray for and it seems the library is fortunate to have donors who are supporting the plan.

On a footnote: 3 more from HGC were axed from the rosters due to suspicions of the current and new board of officers. Amazing, now they are going after people in their 70-80's years of age putting fear of burial to get them to sell the land their forfathers intended for church use only at Phoenix Park. How Sad.

I ask myself how much money the church would get for their campaign to sell and build a new hall if they did not sell out to Evans. I am sure it would be a lot more money then what the claim to have pledged.

Anonymous said...


With the many issues of deer getting hit in the borough, wouldn't the preservation of HG property located on PHOENIX PARK owned by SAINT NICHOLAS BROTHERHOOD - as well as the Reeves Park be areas that the community would protect and ensure are not developed? Deer have hit cars at low brige, Starr Street and High Street often lately, and it will get worse if Evens, HG Church and other greedy people move forward on the constant appeals to sell off land with trees, nature and land for our wildlife. I know this may not be the venue for this comment but felt it was a good point based on recent issues of deer and no place for them to go with current building up of our green open space.

Anonymous said...

Great new plan Phoenixville Childrens library moving to the Old Schuylkill School Building