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When visiting their local library, Brooklynites may soon be greeted by a librarian in a leotard if a new downtown $85 million library goes ahead. Architect Enrique Norten of TEN Arquitectos unveiled a design for the Visual and Performing Arts Library at the fist meeting of the Task Force, held at the Central Library on Grand Army Plaza. “It’s an opportunity to transform an area of Brooklyn on Flatbush Avenue, and a significant opportunity to enhance the cultural district of Brooklyn Academy of Music and create a library of visual and a performing arts like none other in the country,” said, Anthony Crowell, chair of the task force and member of board of trustees. The new glass and steel building — shaped like a ship’s bow — continues the trend of libraries becoming more than just a place to research historical records and check out books. The Visual and Performing Arts Library at Flatbush and Lafayette Avenues will house state-of-the-art reading rooms, galleries, and a high-tech auditorium programming space for teens and children. The building, which will constitute the south building of the BAM complex, has two wings flaring out from an arrowhead, which points south. The shape of the building reflects the shape of the site. The building will also nestle up to the 34-story, 1929, former Williamsburgh Savings Bank clock tower building – currently the tallest building in Brooklyn. Designed for energy efficiency and to let in light where it is needed, the glass and steel building is designed to reflect its public and civic use, Norten says. More symbolically, Norten says that it will reflect the modern expectations of political transparency and represent a building for the new millennium. “We as a community are looking differently at the world,” said Norten. “We live in a lighter world and a world that is more transparent, more democratic, and freer. I think is important that we represent that in our architecture.” The new library will serve as a branch library but also a venue for Brooklynites to develop and display performing arts. “It is intended to be a specialized library for creative people in Brooklyn,” said Ginnie Cooper, executive director of the Brooklyn Public Library. “We expect that the public who live in Brooklyn will find services as their branch library as well as celebrate the creativity of people in Brooklyn.” Library users can enter steps between the wings into the first floor of the library, where the public can circulate, drink coffee, shop in library stores and relax and read in seating areas. According to the plans, library users step up as they walk toward the southern tip of the building. At the end they can descend into a 200-seat auditorium. The ground floor will also contain office and archive space. The upper three floors will be used for exhibition space for adults, children and young adults. Upper floors will also house multi-use rooms, which can be used for seminars, meetings, educational programs and other uses. These floors will also have mezzanines with exhibition space. The city plans to build a 400-car parking garage under the library. With a National Endowment for the Arts grant, the Brooklyn Public Library launched an international design competition on March 2002. Mexico-based award-winning architects, TEN Arquitectos won the challenge – but there was still work to do on the design. “We ended up with a wonderful picture of what could be there,” said Cooper. “But not with a plan that we could really go ahead and build.” Since then the architects and Brooklyn Public Library have modified the design quite significantly. The scale of the project was reduced. Additional space has been added for teens and children. And space that was to be rented to arts groups as an incubator was removed because it would have duplicated similar space elsewhere at BAM. “When we first talked about the VPA a few years ago, it was intended as a library that really served the creative people in the Borough of Brooklyn, the City of New York and beyond,” said Cooper. “We have added to that for the people who live in that neighborhood and especially for children and young adults, recognizing that as our most creative population.” The cost of the completed library is currently estimated at around $85 million, according to Cooper. That includes $70 million for construction with a further $10 to $15 million for furnishings and equipment. So far $18 million has been raised. That includes $10 million from construction that was part of the BAM Local Development Corporation allocation. A further $3 million was provided by the mayor’s office for the design, and $3 million was allocated by the city, according to Carol Lynn, coordinator of special projects at the Brooklyn Public Library. In addition, the governor’s office provided $2 million for design and project management. “The real question now is where do we get the money and from where does it come?” said Cooper. “It will be a combination of public and private.” Not all are happy with the idea of a new library, saying that other Brooklyn libraries are under-funded. “It is a very ambitious plan and I am very concerned about the question of its sustainability in the light of all the libraries in the Borough of Brooklyn that have had to cut back services,” said councilmember Leticia James. James says priority should be given to improving existing facilities, and fears that the new library would detract operational funds from other branch libraries such as Clinton Hill and Walt Whitman branches, which are unable to stay open six days a week. In particular, James is concerned those that are serving areas where there is a low literacy race. “If they could fund it by private means — both capital and operations — I would be the first one to cut the ribbon,” said James. “I support it in theory but show me the money.” Cooper says that the project could be completed within four to five years of securing these funds. The project has already been approved through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, but Cooper says there will be more public input one funding has been secured.

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