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Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney has announced a $600 million package to restore some of Philadelphia’s older libraries; the money will come from municipal bonds, donations and state and federal funding | Courtesy of Michael Righi 

Nothing is spared by the passage of time, whether it be people, roads, houses ... or libraries.

And in a city as old as Philadelphia, it does not come as a shock that some of its oldest public libraries suffer some major structural issues.

With the help of Mayor Jim Kenney’s massive $600 million plan to restore Philadelphia’s public libraries, recreation centers and parks, these libraries will finally begin to find new life, according to a March 14 Philadelphia Inquirer article. Kenney hopes to fund this plan by selling $300 million in bonds, along with around $200 million in supplementary donations and state and federal funding. Those who work closely with Philadelphia’s libraries see first hand the need for this restoration plan.

“We have 54 separate facilities in the library system. Some of them, 17 in fact, are what we call ‘Carnegie libraries,’ which were built when Andrew Carnegie made a gift to the nation to put public libraries in many cities,” Sandra Horrocks, vice president of external affairs of the Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation, said. “Those 17 buildings are all over one hundred years old now, and so they have a lot of physical ... problems.”

The library on the edge of Penn’s campus, located at the corner of 40th and Walnut streets, is one such library. The Walnut Street West Branch of the Philadelphia Free Library opened in 1906 funded by a Carnegie grant, though its current building was reopened in 2006.

“We need an air conditioning and heating system,” Walnut West Library Manager Bruce Siebers said. “We need some patching in the roof.”

Older buildings, such as Walnut Street West, pose problems for those that frequent them.

“In one of the libraries the plaster is peeling and it has lead paint in it,” Horrocks added. “We have a lot of physical challenges with the old buildings.”

One of the biggest issues around the library system, she said, is the lack of accessibility to the buildings. Many of the libraries are not accessible for people with disabilities.

Although Kenney’s plan is more focused on the funding of the restoration of current structures and not the building of new libraries, Horrocks believes that, in some case, new construction may be necessary. Kenney’s plan still has a ways to go before it is implemented. Each plank of the funding proposal would need to be voted on.

“Fishtown Library is much, much too small – it’s in an old horsebarn,” Horrocks said. “In that instance, we would be interested in co-locating with the rec center that is across the street, so that would require some kind of new structure.”

Horrocks is optimistic about the results of Kenney’s plan.

“We’re just incredibly grateful to Mayor Kenney for this initiative. As I said, many of our buildings are very, very old and the city capitol budget has just not been able to afford the kind of work that needs to happen on these buildings,” she added. “This is a terrific opportunity to take a great asset in the city and make it really wonderful.”

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