At a community meeting on Monday, the Friends of Lovett Memorial Library provided an update on the 21st Century Libraries Initiative, a citywide and multi-phase project that will breathe modern life into the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Beaux-Arts Parkway Central Library and neighborhood branches.
It was just over a year ago when Mt. Airy residents learned that their Lovett Memorial Library had been selected along with four other neighborhood branches (Logan, Tacony, South Philadelphia, and Lillian Marrero Library) to be a prototype in the first phase of the project.
In February of this year, FLP’s chief of extensions division, Joe Benford and architect James R. Keller, who is spearheading the transformation for the neighborhood branches, presented the initial design plans to a skeptical but eager crowd of community members.
Questions and concerns over loss of collection, proper staffing, as well as heating and cooling issues were expressed. The branch dates back to 1887 and has not seen any formal renovations since 1999.
Benford and Keller assured the community that all concerns would be taken into consideration and emphasized that the design was a work in progress.
At Monday’s meeting, the fate of the Lovett Memorial Library was much more certain — just this month the William Penn Foundation announced it would be granting the Free Library of Philadelphia with $25 million towards renovations and modernization.
The grant is the FLP’s largest gift in its 120-year history as well the largest sum of money the William Penn Foundation has ever bestowed upon a single organization.
“This a landmark grant,” said Keller, lead architect for the neighborhood branches’ transformation. “In the world of grant management and library funding, this is huge… this is international news.”
With about three-quarters of the money going towards the renovations of neighborhood branches, Lovett Memorial will witness a transformation that includes the addition of a childrens library, a repurposed interior, a technology center and possibly a rooftop terrace.
“We are very excited about this project,” said Siobhan Reardon, the Free Library’s president and director who was also in attendance at Monday’s meeting. “It is very transformative and it’s going to give this building a nice uplift, because I think a community which uses this library as heavily as you do, deserves a much more well-organized and light-filled space… And that is our goal here.”
Initial estimates suggest the library could be closed anywhere from a year to 16 months. An exact timeline has yet to be released.