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Chicago Public Library Fri Jan 15 2010

Altgeld Gardens Finally Gets a New Library

Editor's Note: This article was submitted by Christopher Gray, an independent journalist in Chicago.

More than a year after broken pipes destroyed their library, the residents of Altgeld Gardens will be able to check out books in a space named for the first African-American poet.

The Chicago Public Library revealed Wednesday that a new library would take up residence in an unused, 4,000-square foot wing of the Phillis Wheatley Child Parent Center.

"It's actually a better location, closer to the school," said Mary Dempsey, the commissioner of the Chicago Public Library. "We'll have a separate entrance, we want this to be open to everyone."

The Phillis Wheatley center is at 902 E. 133rd Place, just down the street from Carver Elementary School. Wheatley grew up a slave in Boston in the 1760s only to later earn praise for her poetry, ironically, from slave-owning George Washington. The library will take over space in old classrooms once used for preschool and kindergarten.

"One, two, three, four classrooms with a corridor — that's all going to be demolished and made into one, big room," said Mort Coburn, who directs the CPL's building program.

This new library project has taken the coordination of three different city of Chicago bureaucracies — the library, Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Housing Authority — at a cost of about $650,000, according to Dempsey. Funds will be divided up evenly from the three city departments.

"CPS has a very ambitious opening date of June," she said. "We'd love to have our summer reading program going."

Altgeld went without their summer reading program in 2009, and since the old library was suddenly shuttered last March, children of the Gardens have had no easy public place to go after school to read a book or get on the Internet.

The Altgeld Gardens housing project is not only isolated from the rest of Chicago because it's so far away, but it's separated even from the nearby West Pullman neighborhood by rail yards, brown fields and the sewage treatment facility. The closest library is the Pullman branch at 110th and Indiana, about four miles and 12 minutes away by bus.

"It's a great thing that's coming," said Deloris Lucas, a resident of the Golden Gate neighborhood, adjacent to the housing project. "It's unfortunate that they wasted a whole school year deciding this is what they want."

When Gapers Block first reported on the Altgeld library closing in May, residents and activists in the Gardens had received little word on the re-opening of the library and Lucas lamented that despite the good final result, she felt the community had been kept out of a top-down process.

Library spokeswoman Ruth Lednicer said she understood the residents' frustrations, but the CPL and the CHA had to first assess whether the old library was salvageable. After they determined it was not, it was another hurdle to secure the new space with the Chicago Public Schools. She added that an emergency, temporary location would not have proved feasible.

"It's not a wise use of resources to set something up for a couple months when in another few months we could get something that will be there for a while," Lednicer said. "We have worked really hard in this economic climate that we haven't cut any branches permanently."

Lucas voiced her preference several times at the meeting for an eventual brand-new library for the residents of Golden Gate and Altgeld Gardens.

At 4,000 square feet, the library will have more space than the old location, but it's still a far cry from the five new libraries under construction, which have floor space ranging from 11,000 to 16,000 square feet. New branches are going up in places such as Ukrainian Village and West Humboldt Park.

"They get off cheap with $700,000," Lucas said.

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John Paul Jones / January 15, 2010 11:25 AM

We at Developing Communities Project are pleased with the work of the Chicago Public Library, CHA, CPS and Alderman Anthony Beale for their collective response to the public's outcry for social justice via the return of library services. DCP played a significant role in advocating for the former library in Aldgeld Garden,so naturally we were indeed proud to have participated in the current campaign for a new library and the opportunity to speak before the Chicago Library Facility Board. The new Library will add a significant amount of new computers and seating for both youth and adults. We now look forward to working with the community through its new Friends of Aldgeld-Riverdale Branch Library Committee. Furthermore, our Board of Faith-based leaders serving the Far Southside would encourage continual intergovernmental cooperation between CPL, CPS and CHA to ensure on-time completion of this Library scheduled for a June 2010 opening.

kari / January 19, 2010 1:39 PM

it looks like the link for the phyllis wheatley center actually goes to a Minneapolis-based agency by the same name. i'd love to know more about the chicago agency though.

Andrew Huff / January 19, 2010 10:43 PM

Hmm, you're right, Kari. Sorry about that. It doesn't appear that the Phillis Wheatley Center in Chicago has a website. I've removed the link to the MN center.

Sam / February 1, 2010 1:21 PM

"We have worked really hard in this economic climate that we haven't cut any branches permanently."

Ha. Ha. Ha.....

They may have not cut branches permanently, but they DID cut half of the entire Page workforce.

Ruth Lednicer / February 3, 2010 11:38 AM

Actually Sam, the union staff voted to lay off the 120 pages, rather than take the same furlough days the non union staff at the Library have to take in 2010. Had they agreed to these concessions, no one would have had to lose their job.

Former Altgeld Resident / February 7, 2010 5:09 PM

Wondering how much praise Ald. Beale should be given for this... Hmmm...

Jane / February 9, 2010 10:06 AM

"We have worked really hard in this economic climate that we haven't cut any branches permanently."

"Actually Sam, the union staff voted to lay off the 120 pages, rather than take the same furlough days the non union staff at the Library have to take in 2010. Had they agreed to these concessions, no one would have had to lose their job."

But they HAVE cut hours and their page pool. What Ms. Lednicer fails to mention is that the union employees are taking furlough days. They voted to not take additional furloughs.

Ms. Lednicer also fails to mention that according to the BGA, she earns $9361 monthly for an annual total of $112,332 plus all of the benefits enjoyed by City employees.

She sounds bitter that union employees who make less than half of what she makes cannot AFFORD to take additional furlough days.

I wonder how she obtained her position as according to she is on the City clout hiring list.

jenet / March 3, 2011 9:11 PM

Did this library ever open? I will be in the area for a container gardening workshop this spring and would like to check it out if possible.

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