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Cleveland Public Library Embarks on Branch Revitalization Project

Cleveland Public Library is embarking on an ambitious, multiyear capital project to revitalize its neighborhood branch libraries and ensure its facilities are safe, accessible, and positioned to serve the Cleveland community well into the future.

“Our 27 branch libraries provide a vital network of library services for our residents throughout Cleveland,” says Felton Thomas, Jr., Executive Director of Cleveland Public Library. “Many of these branches, however, are aging, and we need to address important repairs and updates. As we look ahead to our 150th anniversary in 2019, we want to ensure our buildings reflect the needs of tomorrow’s library patrons.”

The first phase of this two-pronged revitalization project will address critical repairs to ten branches located throughout the Library system. While past financial considerations deferred this maintenance work, Cleveland Public Library is now prepared not only to complete repairs but to re-envision how its branches can best serve as safe, inclusive, and sustainable environments.

The ten branches impacted by this maintenance work include Lorain, Glenville, Jefferson, Harvard-Lee, Carnegie West, Addison, Fulton, Langston Hughes, Rockport, and Collinwood. As the first branches scheduled for construction, Lorain and Glenville will temporarily close beginning February 5, 2018. Additional branches will follow on a rolling basis throughout the spring and summer of 2018.

Most branches are expected to close for approximately six to nine weeks. During this process, patrons in affected neighborhoods will be redirected to nearby branches to obtain library services. After the completion of repairs, the Library will seek feedback from within each branch’s community to determine what additional improvements—such as configuring the interior space, making cosmetic improvements, incorporating new technologies, and more—might benefit the branch.

A Vision for a Stronger Community

This maintenance work reflects only one portion of a larger, long-term plan to transform Cleveland Public Library’s neighborhood branches. As part of the Library’s Community Vision Plan, and in partnership with Kent State University’s Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative (CUDC), a series of collaborative public meetings and focus groups helped identify how select branch libraries could be improved and updated to better serve their surrounding neighborhoods. By soliciting input from a diverse range of library patrons, neighborhood residents, and community stakeholders, the Library and CUDC developed a clearer vision for these branches. The successful passage of Cleveland Public Library’s levy in November 2017 ensured that this important work can move forward.

“We are extremely grateful to the voters of Cleveland who recognize the value of strong public libraries in their neighborhoods,” Mr. Thomas commented after the levy vote. “Our library system is nearly 150 years old, and with this vote of confidence from our community, we are prepared to make significant improvements to our branches system-wide that set the stage for our next 150.”

The Community Vision Plan includes thirteen branches, with recommendations surrounding exterior architectural renovations, redesigned interior spaces, solutions aimed to bridge the digital divide, and more. South Branch, a historic Carnegie building currently being transformed through this capital project, will receive updates to reflect improved accessibility and space for new technologies, all while retaining the original building’s character and history.

Making History

The branches in the Community Vision Plan, coupled with the ten branches due for high-priority maintenance work, account for the majority of the Library’s branches. Only four branch libraries do not fall into either category and will be addressed independently. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Branch, for example, is currently the subject of an international design competition, which will result in a new, state-of-the-art facility. As a result of these various projects, Cleveland Public Library is poised to transform the face of most of its facilities in the coming years.

This branch revitalization plan marks the third system-wide capital project in Cleveland Public Library’s nearly 150-year history. The first such initiative of this scale was marked by the construction of the first branch libraries between 1906 and 1928 under the direction of William Howard Brett. Of the branches built during this time, ten remain in use within the Cleveland Public Library system; the average age of these historic branches is 96 years.

In the second system-wide project, which was spearheaded by Cleveland Public Library Director Ervin J. Gaines between 1975 and 1989, nine new branches were constructed and another nine were renovated. Branches built during that time are now an average of 35 years old. Other branches built outside these two major projects are aging, as well, which means the Library’s extensive branch system is due for some much-needed updates. This ambitious plan will help set the stage for Cleveland Public Library’s next 150 years.

“We’re excited to get started,” says Mr. Thomas, “and we look forward to working with our patrons and the community to advance our libraries into the future.”