The Van Cortlandt library is getting a major upgrade, but it won’t be new carpets or a fresh coat of paint.
Instead, work has begun on the library’s new home — a stone’s throw away from its current 3874 Sedgwick Ave., location, finding its way to 3882 Cannon Place. The new site is not only double the size of the current Sedgwick Avenue location, but it will come complete with an outdoor area, age-specific spaces, and a community room.
Peter Pamphile, the branch manager for the Van Cortlandt Library, says he hopes the new location will allow the neighborhood to finally get the chance to take advantage of all the perks that come with modern libraries.
“This is one of the few places in New York we can use to access knowledge and attend a program and entertain yourself and get books to learn from,” he said. “We offer so much to everyone, and there are not too many places in New York that do.”
The new location won’t open until next year. In the meantime, however, the existing branch remains open.
Pamphile has big dreams for the new space and intends on continuing his work with local schools like P.S. 95 Sheila Mencher and DeWitt Clinton High School, as well as civic hotspots like the Kingsbridge Heights Community Center.
Although the original branch is small, it is indeed mighty, Pamphile said. In the one-room space, the branch received nearly 60,000 visits.
“The evidence is in the numbers,” said Anthony Marx, president of the New York Public Library. “So we can’t wait to see what you can do next, Peter.”
Yet, the old library does have its challenges. Its one-floor setup created overlapping programs that would constantly compete for space — especially since there weren’t any dividing rooms.
“When I was first elected, I got a complaint from a constituent, an older woman, who was complaining about the kids in the library,” Councilman Andrew Cohen said. “And I thought to myself, ‘Why would you want to discourage the kids in the library?’ But it really just points to the need for distinct programming for people.”
The new branch caters to that very need. Elora Ibarra, a resident who lives on the same street as the new building, believes that to be true.
“We have a lot of people sharing that one space, so having a new library with multiple areas for multiple ages and groups is going to help this neighborhood a whole lot,” she said. “I appreciate it and was very excited when I found out that that was what was going on over here. You had little kids running around screaming, and you had people who were trying to work.”
The Cannon Place building had been vacant for a while with chatter about bringing the Van Cortlandt Library there revving up about two summers ago. Now that it’s all official, Ibarra is excited.
“I can just walk up the hill,” she said.
A quarter of the $8 million needed to construct the new branch came through money gathered by elected officials like Cohen, Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz Jr., and Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz. In addition to being a larger space on two floors with multiple rooms, the new library also includes more computers and laptops, programming and workshops for all ages, an adult reading room, phone and laptop charging stations at tables, and several public restrooms.
“The library has become a social hub of information, of activity, of community,” Diaz said. “When we pool our resources together, this is exactly what we get.”
Oftentimes, branches in poorer neighborhoods are closed, Marx said, but that only makes the upgrade projects like the one in Van Cortlandt that much more important.
“Thanks to New Yorkers for using libraries more and more and fighting against a time and idea that says we don’t need to learn or we don’t need to sit together across our differences,” Marx said. “We’re here to reinvest in our branches, and more importantly in our citizens.”