In 2017, in a unique public/private partnership with the Boston Public Library (BPL), the Friends of the South End Library embarked on a capital campaign, Writing the Next Chapter, to transform the first floor interior of the South End branch into a state-of-the-art space that will support modern library services in two phases. A big mulit-million-dollar renovation of the branch that would expand its space would be seven to 10 years away, because many other branch libraries were ahead on the BPL’s capital renovation list. Until that time, the South End branch would have a much better library, though of the same small size. The BPL allocated $132,000 capital funding in FY 2018 (which started in July 2017) to design and build a first phase. The Friends pledged to raise an additional $50,000 from the South End community and our supporters by October of that year. By March 2019, FOSEL had raised close to $100,000.
Every member of the Friends’ board donated in amounts ranging from $50 to $10,000 for a total of $30,000. Many generous South End residents made donations ranging from $50 to $10,000, as well. The Worcester Square Area neighborhood Association gave $1,500. The BPDA (formerly the BRA) wrote a check for $1,000. And Eversource Energy donated $2,500, among other contributors.
As a result of our advocacy, Mayor Marty Walsh and BPL president David Leonard decided to advance the date of a big renovation of the South End branch, reducing the wait time to three to five years. Funding for a so-called programming study will become available in July 2019. The one-year study, the first step in a complete overhaul, will take one year and determine what is needed based on current South End demographic data and the space available for expansion. An architect is part of this process and the study, when completed, will have a budget attached to it. A number of public meetings with the South End community will follow. That will lead to a design study, more public meetings, and, finally, the construction.
Because a South End library renovation will happen sooner than expected, the library will have a less substantial upgrade this year, a so-called “refresh” to start in the fall of 2019. This will upgrade the outdated branch immediately while, on a parallel track, planning for the full renovation is in process. The “refresh” will bring new flooring, fresh paint, a de-cluttering to create more space, a few more electrical outlets and upholstery of the seating near the entrance. FOSEL has agreed to pay for new furniture, including in a new seating area for teens, and additional items as suggested by the BPL project team to upgrade library’s downstairs area.
We hope the illustrations above of our earlier proposed plan will ignite the collective imagination of the community as we are asked to become engaged with the results of the BPL’s programming study. The preliminary ideas include, but are not limited to, updated electric/digital infrastructure; a new area dedicated to teens; a beautifully renovated children’s room; more variety of seating arrangements for adults; a new community space to display books and images of the South End or work by our local authors; a new flexible room for tutoring, community services and conferences; and an attractive browsing wall for newspapers and magazines. We are now looking forward to a robust community input process that will begin in the next year or two.
The library's 1971 building, an early example of the work by the award-winning firm of Mitchell/Giurgola Architects LLP, has architectural significance and will likely require a number of preservation decisions.
The Friends also secured $150,000 in capital funding from the Parks Department to improve Library Park which was originally designed as an integral part of the library, as among other suggestions, a sunken courtyard overlooked by a Children’s Room on the basement level. After several public hearings in 2017 and 2018, and approval for their proposed redesign by the South End Landmark District Commission in early April 2018, the Park's reconstruction was completed in the fall of 2018. Additional funding to complete the renovation with new plantings, curbing, irrigation and a refurbishment of the LightWell installations is under consideration by several agencies. In the fall of 2018, FOSEL planted 3,000 spring bulbs which flowered on a timed blooming plan. Library Park look the best it ever has. For details, view this link.
The Friends of the South End Library thank you for your support of the campaign for the South End Branch Library, one of our neighborhood’s most important and vital resources.
Because our campaign was the first by a Boston public branch library Friends group to raise private funding for a capital renovation, FOSEL had established an Honorary Fundraising Committee to reflect support for public/private partnership efforts. The Committee included David Leonard, President of the Boston Public Library; State Treasurer Deb Goldberg; State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz; State Representatives Byron Rushing and Aaron Michlewitz; At-large City Councillors Michael Flaherty, Ayanna Pressley and Annissa Essaibi George; City Council President Michelle Wu; South End District Councillors Ed Flynn, Frank Baker and Kim Janey; John Holland of Holland Construction Companies; South End realtor Steven Cohen of Keller Williams Realty; and Al Desta and Yalem Alemu of the South End Food Emporium.
The elevated rendering represents the proposed interior area from a (relocated) circulation desk to where the stairwell is located.