Sunday, February 22, 2009

Phoenixville Public Library in the "heart" of town!

This has been staring me in the face for months yet I just didn't see it.

The Phoenix building is located at 225 Bridge Street and is listed for sale at $2,100,000. At that address it is truly in the "heart" of Phoenixville.

Phoenixville library board members and associates have often argued the library is a "walking" library and it's location should be in the heart of the community.

Yesterday, the Journal Register announced bankruptcy. The building is already for sale, and given the horrid news coupled with the economic crisis, the owners may reduce the asking price.

A grand edifice itself, with 16,000 square foot of space, the Phoenix building might be purchased at a fraction of the $6.5 million needed for the controversial 22,000 square foot current library expansion project.

The children's library could remain at the original library location and perhaps share usage with another entity resolving the school district's finanical contribution question. All night-time programs could be directed to the Bridge Street location leaving ample parking for residents on Second Avenue. The over 200,000 annual visits to the library will translate into 200,000+ visitors to the downtown area increasing the foot traffic to restaurants and businessess.

The Bridge Street location would fullfill the walking and heart aspects of the controversy, and the board could use the balance of the $6.5 million to renovate the building as well as house an entire restaurant instead of a coffee shop as indicated for the expansion building. And, if the parking authority is indeed ready to build a garage downtown, the parking issue becomes moot.

Two historical buildings will be saved for posterity, the street in front of the residences on Second Avenue won't become a parking lot for the facility, the residents won't be gridlocked day and night, won't lose the quality of life they have become accustomed to, and most importantly will not lose value in their properties.

Win-win situation.

Question is, is the Library Board willing to consider the good of the neighbors and any ideas other than their own?

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

Karen, I must say that I am usually not on your side with the library issue but damn it, you nailed this one. I would totally support that idea. Maybe the library board continually shooting down other ideas was a blessing because this is truly a great suggestion. Now if we could get the slumlords that occupy the Phoenix building to lower the price for the good of the town and their own benefit (since I'm sure they purchased it for a song and a dance). Yeah, lets not hold our breath on that one.

Karen said...

Thank you, Anonymous.

As there may be even more ideas this blog is, as always, open to any and all suggestions on the library issue.

I'll make sure they are published.

Ed Naratil said...

This may not be correct, but when the 'for sale' sign first went up I asked about the status of the newspaper. The answer was "we are just leasing the building - it's not ours to sell".

If this was true - who owns the building? That information was not given to me when I asked.

And, yes, I do agree that this could be an alternate plan. Will the library consider it? Probably not.

Karen said...

I'll try to find out, Ed.

Thanks for that information!

Anonymous said...

The plan would be a good one if the Phoenix building was as large as the proposed library expansion. Because it is not and you are suggesting operating both buildings, I would have to say the idea stinks. It would be REALLY convenient to take my kids to one library only to have to pack them back up and repeat the whole ordeal so that I could get my own books.

Karen said...

Anonymous 10:10 a.m., the current library plan has additional square footage than that which is in the Phoenix newspaper building but please remember, right now it's just a plan. Nothing is written in stone and the building's 16,000 square feet is an enormous amount of space.

Think of the library downtown as an opportunity for you to either take your children shopping or for dinner before or after a library visit. The library could become another venue for you and your husband to visit after a quiet dinner at one of the restaurants.

The children's library idea would allow for you to totally devote your attention to having fun with the little ones and rather than being an ordeal, it could become a special time shared with them.

The library has outgrown it's building with over 200,000 visits annually. Each year brings thousands more visits and we have been told the planned building could be outgrown in 10 years.

What would be next for the library?

Extending the library by taking the homes on Second Avenue?

Please keep in mind that creating a monstrous-sized building with absolutely no parking would destroy the surrounding residential neighborhoods forever.

The library needs a new home.

Anonymous said...

Karen, a couple of things to note.

Journal Register Company owns the building. While it would be a win-win situation, I doubt if they would budge from their asking price. They can't manage things up top, more or less make a deal with one of their buildings.

Also, the library's current location has to be maintained for it to receive funding from the school district. I doubt that the district would still fund it if it were just a children's library, instead of the fully-functioning library as it is.

I will compliment you by saying your idea is brillant, but unfortunately your brillance couldn't be fulfilled due to those mitigating factors.

By the way, I thoroughly despise the fact that the library wants to expand into the park. I'm not buying the bullshit about how a fire truck can make the turn up and down the side alley there.

No one is considering the long-term effects of this. That is a huge part of Dogwood Festival accessibility that is disrupted, along with Community Day and other functions held at the park.

No other entity in this town could overtake a portion of a street and have it closed off for their own measures.

For as much as the neighbors bitch and moan about things, Phoenixville Hospital has handled their expansion with the utmost professionalism. They purchased the houses they needed to make their expansion possible.

The library simply wants to do this without regards to their neighbors. The slanted on-street parking idea is stupid, and I guess they haven't seen the stupidity of Pottstown's decision to do that on some of their streets. I don't see the abundance of parking being available to the library in conjunction with their plan.

It amazes me that more people, including councilpeople, aren't aggravated by this. You will get a true sense of this council if they rubber-stamp this for the library in the upcoming months.

Steve said...

Sorry to burst any bubbles here, but this would not be "win-win". One of the primary reason to keep it at its current location is to maintain its Carnegie library status. This is not a minor issue, and is a significant source of prestige, as well as funding. If you have any doubts, read this article from the Phoenix:

This would not be possible if it moved downtown.

Karen said...

Thank you, Anonymous 10:57 a.m., for your comments.

The question of continued funding from the school district has never been asked in a public forum.

Privately, several school board members indicated their reluctance to cutting funding from an associated institution of learning. That being said, until the question is asked publically, we are in the realm of speculation.

On funding, what many people don't know is that a coffee shop is proposed for the expansion. Although the profits from such a venture would be minimal, the shop can still be counted as producing revenue, and joined with the school district funds, fundraisers, subscriptions, pledges, estate donations, county programs, and possibly grants.

Personally, I have concern regarding raising $6.5 million dollars in this economy. No plan for the library should be given approval until all the funding is secured, and a clear program for continued maintenance is in place.

Just to be clear, the current library plan does not build into Reeves Park. The expansion plan reaches the southern sidewalk. However, do take a look at the drawings for a clear picture of the encroachment. They can be found on the library's website.

The lack of parking is a primary concern of the residents in the neighborhoods surrounding the library because we live with the gridlock every day. Using the library's own figures, a 268% increase in circulation in the last 20 years has resulted in over 200,000+ visits annually by library patrons. The numbers will only continue to rise, and again using the library website info, even if the building were doubled in size, it would only accomodate today's figures! Clearly, the libray has outgrown it's building and the neighborhood.

I agree with your assessment regarding the impact on traditional events held in Reeves Park. Along with the neighborhood, the service groups would take one to the chin if this plan were to be adopted.

Regarding the fire equipment, a demonstration with a ladder truck may be the only method of proving the turn onto Park Alley. And, it should be demonstrated while the street is completely parked up as is normally. This has been a concern of the residents since the very first meeting in addition to the timely arrival of other emergency vehicles once the street is closed.

Thank you, again, for your comments and compliment.

I, like others, are working for a better resolution to an already burdensome problem for the neighborhood.

Karen said...

Steve, I am familiar with that article as I commented to the Phoenix on it and posted it to this blog.

However, the school district has not weighed in on continued funding along with the idea of moving, opening a satellite, keeping this location as a children's library, or any other idea.

The Carnegie status aside, think about this. How do all the thousands of other libraries survive? From where and how do they receive funding?

Time to think outside the small box of Phoenixville.

Anonymous said...

I am the first poster on this thread and I have to say if losing the current library building is part of any proposal, then I am completely against it. We have lost too many beautiful buildings over the years due to development and expansions, and not proposing any creative solutions. I like the idea of the Phoenix building but not if it includes abandoning the current building (or any other plan with the same intention). I would never support abandoning another historic building.

Karen said...

Anonymous 7:48 p.m., no one has ever said the library building would be abandonded.

Anonymous said...

I like having 2 branches -- the current library site and The Phoenix's building. It preserves two historic buildings and it places the branch where there are plenty of people and sufficient parking.

Originally, I thought the library should open a branch in Franklin Commons. It was my thought that placing a children's library there would allow children on the North Side to walk to the library (they have to be driven now) and would expose them to other people furthering their education, which would hopefully inspire them to continue their education also.

With two daycares at Franklin Commons, I still believe a children's library branch would be a good idea, but if the library really doesn't want to be there, then I believe The Phoenix building is a good choice. The building is also historic, so hertiage funding should be available for it, as well as the orginal Carneige library, so long-term funding should not be such an issue.

Anonymous said...

We should also be looking at the old Friendship Fire Co building on the north side. Dedicated Parking already in existence? Park nearby that will already attract youngsters. Karen, I was also surprised to learn that this issue did not make you run for Council. What gives?

Solofloyd said...

It is an alternative that should be considered, but the library would still have to maintain 2 buildings and employ 2 staffs. I believe it would be best for the majority of Phoenixville for the library to remain in 1 location and staying adjacent to Reeves Park is also a positive.

Karen said...

Anonymous 7:54 a.m., the Franklin Commons would be an excellent home for a library branch but the reluctance of the board stems from the funding aspects of the situation.

However, they can't throw up their hands and just create additional burdens for the neighborhoods surrounding the library.

They must go back to the drawing board.

Thank you for your comments!

Karen said...

Yes, Anonymous 8:47 a.m., the Friendship Fire Company building was another suggestion for a branch of the library.

The board's position has remained unchanged since the first meeting.

Their one and only plan is to close Second Avenue and build a monstrous building, compounding and exacerbating already existing neighborhood problems.

If I were to run for Council, Anonymous, my motivation would be the same as in the past, for the betterment of the entire community, and although I've received calls urging me, I have not yet made a decision.

Thank you for your comments!

Karen said...

Thanks, Solofloyd, for your comments.

Thousands and thousands of libraries exist in the state of Pennsylvania.

Where do they get their funding to operate not only their primary facility but also branches?

Rather than repeating the financial agreement with the school district as an impediment to other sites for a library campus or branch, why are we not directing the library board to seek additional revenue from the same sources other libraries utilize?

Solofloyd said...

"why are we not directing the library board to seek additional revenue from the same sources other libraries utilize?"

Perhaps they have considered this and thought it wasn't the best plan. Why operate 2 branches if you don't need 2 branches?

I suspect if this issue was voted on in a borough election the current plan would be supported by the majority.

Karen said...

Solofloyd, my question was not posted to take another stroll into speculation.

Very obviously other libraries exist in the Commonwealth.

How do they survive? Where do they get their funding?

The argument regarding the monies received from the school district wears thin.

To respond to your question regarding an additional branch, they clearly have outgrown the current facility. They either need a new library campus or a branch facility.

Expansion projects do not rise to the level of a referendum on the ballot.

Education, however, of the public as to the concerns of the neighborhoods surrounding the library is critical.

The library has outgrown it's location.

genny said...

I understand that the next item on the planners agenda is to get the street turned over to them by the Borough Council. If that happens, then they will have the key component in their folly. What are they proposing to do about the underground stream that currently runs under the property? They do know about it. Do they propose to reroute it? If so where to? Or maybe they will make it a water feature in the lobby of the new building? They so far have basically ignored all legitimate questions raised by this plan. Parking, no answer, traffic, no answer, infrastructure, no answer, will funding be pulled by the school district, no answer.. Do they think they can ignore these issues indefinitely, or wish the problems away? In my opinion this is a very seriously flawed plan. It creates many more problems than it solves. Using an existing historic building for a branch makes a whole lot more sense than destroying yet another part of the facade of the current library and destroying the historic grid of the oldest part of Phoenixville (Second Avenue is in the historic district). I would have thought that people who are concerned with historic preservation would be attuned to these things. Instead, they seem to be intent on destroying a whole lot of historic Phoenixville just to sprawl in place.

Anonymous said...

Karen:

You should run for Borough Council.

Solofloyd:

Having two branches shouldn't increase staff much beyond a few extra cleaning people. The library is going to add more staff anyway for the expansion.

I'd like to see some demographics on where the patrons for particular services live and make the library/branches as walkable as possible.

If the majority of children using the library are on the North Side, let's make it more useable for them by placing a the entire children's library in a branch on the North Side. If most of the people using the computers to find jobs, doing research for papers live in the Middle Ward, let's keep the technology center in the current branch.

If the library really wants to add a coffee shop, it would be a profit-making center at the old Friendship Fire Company as there is a deli, but no coffee shops on the North Side. There are several in the Middle Ward.

Parking has to be a major consideration. It's only going to get worse. The library needs to locate its services to minimize parking needs (placing services where the majority of people can walk to use them) and then locate a branch also where there is ample parking.

Based on what I've seen, I have no confidence that the current expansion plan will adequately handle the projected (let alone current) parking and traffic needs. It appears that the Board is being short-sighted on just what the impact will be. And once there is a huge building with a street closed off, it's going to be a mess that will not be easily fixed.

While I don't completely agree with it (many non-profits are getting very favorable rates to locate in Franklin Commons), if the Board is nervous about funding the costs, I can accept that. However, there are significant funding streams in PA to restore/maintain historic buildings, especially if they are being actively used by the public. Adding a branch to restore a historic building just isn't that expensive, especially if you have the fundraising chops that this Board supposedly has access to.

I'd like to see a published break-down of the costs associated with expanding to a branch. I'm not buying that it can't be done with a win/win for the library, the residents and the town, but I'm willing to look at the numbers.

Without numbers, it's just stonewalling by the Library Board.

Solofloyd said...

Hopefully the library will consider all the alternatives and come up with something that will satisfy as many people as possible. As long as the orginal library building remains a library I will be happy.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Karen, it was a good idea but from what I understand, the Phoenix building is not big enough and only adds to the issues of parking downtown and without a suitable answer to that issue its a moot point. Also, I heard that having 2 separate library locations is out of the question. Just to keep you up to date. Back to the drawing board.

Anonymous said...

It hasn't been determined by anyone except the library planners that the size of the addition really needs to as big as they are proposing. Perhaps they could do with less space than they are saying they need. I can see a number of areas on the drawings that seem very excessive and/or not necessary. There was really no public input on this project. That is part of the problem. The sham meetings they held don't count. They just said whatever they wanted to get it through. As far as the parking, one of the major advocates of the project and a member of the Library Foundation, happens to have been appointed to the Parking Authority. I think this is a real conflict of interest for that Authority member, who was appointed by the Borough but who is pushing an agenda which the Borough Council will decide. I don't think that is allowed by the Borough Code either. There needs to more public discussion of this before the street is vacated. Once that is done, the School District owns that part of the street,and any problems that stem from what is under that street must be paid for by the taxpayers. Is this what the town needs?
Can another group be formed that looks into alternatives to the current plan? This blog seems to be one of the only places where real ideas are suggested and critiqued. I still like the Phoenix building idea. Thanks Karen.

Anonymous said...

Karen,
I live on Washington Ave two blocks away from the library. I have enjoyed going to that building for the past 10 years. My kids love the programs there and they have had a chance to walk from their schools. I find the addition proposed to the library exciting for the town and very hopeful. I have been invited to meetings through neighbors about discussing the addition and have had open dialogue with people. Some are for and some against. I feel that I'm trying to look towards the future and my thought is this could help restore the park as well, sort of a come and get a book and have a picnic. I welcome the debate when they have their first meeting, March 25th at 6p.m.