On behalf of Governor Edward G. Rendell, State Representative Dwight Evans (D-Philadelphia) announced today that the state is investing $9.5 million in the Free Library of Philadelphia’s central library’s expansion and renovation project. The Governor, who could not attend the event, said this type of investment is important to the city’s revitalization and the commonwealth’s future.
“Residents depend on free libraries to fulfill a number of important roles within a community,” said Governor Rendell. “With their vast collections of knowledge, through electronic and print mediums, libraries open the door to new opportunities and support neighborhood growth. From children to adults, these institutions provide access to information, which improves the quality of life for all of us.
“When completed, this Central Library’s expansion will prove an integral part of the Ben Franklin Parkway revitalization. In conjunction with the Barnes Museum, the Franklin Institute and the Museum of Art, Philadelphia has a new destination that will spur economic development in the region, paying dividends for years to come.”
Governor Rendell and Representative Evans spearheaded efforts to secure funds for the Free Library’s capital campaign to expand the 79-year old Central Library, the programmatic and administrative center of the Free Library system. The Governor released $9.5 million, which includes $2 million earmarked by the House of Representatives minority caucus.
"The Free Library of Philadelphia has stood as a beacon of learning and opportunity in this city for nearly eight decades," Representative Dwight Evans stated. "I am proud to partner with Governor Ed Rendell in bringing these state resources to the Free Library so that generations of future Philadelphians can benefit from the critical services this invaluable city treasure provides."
The funding was made available through the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP), an important part of the Governor’s economic stimulus package. RACP is a commonwealth grant program administered by the Office of the Budget for the acquisition and construction of regional economic, cultural, civic and historical improvement projects.
The historic Beaux Arts building on the Parkway is in need of critical renovations and expansion. The facilities are inadequate and overcrowded; and, special collections are at risk of damage and loss. Physical plant issues include a leaking roof and antiquated mechanical systems. The new Central Library will service the needs of the current 900,000 library patrons, particularly for the thousands of children who are served annually. The expansion is expected to generate thousands more visitors as these projects have in other cities. The small Children's Department in the basement only allows for limited visits by pre-school groups for special programs. Adults are routinely turned away from sold-out author lectures. Currently, a building designed for 1.2 million volumes contains seven million items.
Plans call for expanding the library space by fifty percent, adding 160,000 square feet to welcome pre-schoolers and senior citizens, scholars and music lovers, entrepreneurs and job seekers, teenagers and tourists. The Free Library is the largest provider of free internet connection in the region, serving more than 50% of families in Philadelphia without access to the net. An expanded Children's Department, a new Teen Center, a new 550-seat auditorium, the Sunoco Internet Browsing Center and computers and ports throughout the complex, plus a designated space to help build a strong regional workforce are important elements of the design.
Designed by internationally recognized architect Moshe Safdie, the seamless addition will provide Philadelphia with a major new landmark and an anchor on the revitalized Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The Free Library expansion highlights the vital role for 21st century libraries as centerpieces of urban activity; the facility is designed to be a vibrant civic space will also be a gateway to the Parkway's "culture corridor".
The capital project is expected to cost $150 million and projected to break ground sometime in 2007. The Free Library is in the midst of a capital campaign to raise the funds. Public funds have been a cornerstone of capital improvement efforts; the City of Philadelphia has contributed $30 million. The funds released today will bring the total funds raised to $ 73 million.
The physical rehabilitation of the building will mark the completion of a transformation of the Free Library system into one of this nation’s newest, modern central libraries. These projects have been built in Seattle, Salt Lake City, San Diego, Vancouver, Denver and other major cities across the country. Nationally, new central libraries are making a real contribution to the economic vitality of their cities. A Seattle study attributed $16 million in economic impact to their new facility in its first year of operation. The new Salt Lake City Central Library is open from 6am to midnight. Library space includes a florist and coffee shop, and other retail outlets that have made the phrase "meet you at the library" popular among Salt Lake residents and tourists.
“This grant will be instrumental in achieving the goal of transforming the Central branch-the hub of a system that has served millions of our citizens and countless children-into a facility that can continue to fulfill its mission as a vital educational resource in our region”, said W. Wilson Goode Sr., Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Free Library.
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