Closure of Orient Heights branch is put on hold

Following a special meeting by the Boston Public Library’s Board of Trustees and threats from the state legislature to withhold BPL funding unless they kept libraries open, the trustees approved a recommendation to delay the planned closure of the Orient Heights Branch Library in East Boston.

The recommendation to keep Orient Heights and three other library branches in the city open was brought to the Board of Trustees by Boston Public Library President Amy E. Ryan and included news of additional City of Boston funds earmarked for the library in FY11, which begins on July 1, 2010. She said the move was to provide the city with more time for planning the re-purposing of the buildings and the delivery of library services in the affected communities.

“We’ve been listening to the community and we understand the desire for more planning time,” said Ryan. “This extension demonstrates the commitment of the City to keep these facilities open and accessible to the community. We believe that, with continued input from the public, a new use for these buildings can be found.”

Ryan added that there is not a set closure date for each branch library because each neighborhood’s process will take on its own timeline.

“I was very pleased to hear that the library in Orient Heights will remain open for a while longer,” said Representative Carlo Basile. “This decision will allow residents more time to consider the options. I look forward to working with the city and my constituents to come up with an acceptable solution to this problem.”

In response to the proposed closure, Basile lead a delegation of twelve state representatives to block $3 million in funding to the Boston Public Library unless its Board of Trustees agrees to keep all 26 branches in the city open.

“This is not about politics, its about doing the right thing for my neighborhood,” said Basile at the time. “People want to see this branch stay open and are not going to rely on promises of a new facility or an improved Meridian Street Branch. This neighborhood needs two libraries.”

Aside from Basile, representatives behind the effort included Willie Mae Allen, Linda Forry, Gloria Fox, Kevin Honan, Elizabeth Malia, Aaron Michlewitz, Michael Moran, Byron Rushing, Jeffrey Sanchez, Brian Wallace and Martha Walz.

All have been staunched Mayor Thomas Menino supporters but are now showing the mayor their political independence when it comes to an issue that affects their constituency.

Menino himself said that the plan will allow the city to work more closely with each neighborhood to ensure our residents receive the quality services and resources they deserve.

“As elected officials we are responsible for spending their tax dollars wisely so we must continue to keep the conversations open giving everyone an opportunity to be a part of the process,” he said. “We hope, in the near future, East Boston will be better served with a better library that is better equipped for the changing needs of our residents.”

City Councilor Sal LaMattina praised the decision to keep the library open and said it was the right thing to do.

“Look, we need two libraries in East Boston,” said LaMattina. “It was not fair to expect Orient Height residents and children to travel to other end of the neighborhood to go to the library. What is fair is keeping both branches open until we find a central location and build a new state-of-the-art facility in East Boston.”

Senator Anthony Petruccelli, who was another outspoken opponent to BPL’s plan to close the Orient Heights branch said too much goes into shutting down a facility to do it in such a rushed and haphazard manner.

“There wasn’t really a solid plan in place once the Orient Height branch closed at the end of the summer,” said Petruccelli. “We all need to take a step back and find a suitable location for a new library, figure out what we want to see go into the vacant Orient Heights branch building and have a community process on what kind of services residents want to see in their new library. Keeping the Orient Heights Library open a little longer allows us to do this.”

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