In 2009, civic leader Pat Dolan asked state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) to meet her in front of the Kew Gardens Hills Library on a Saturday at noon.
Upon arrival, the senator saw a line of local residents waiting to get into the library that snaked around the building.
“This was her way to urge the expansion,” Stavisky said. “And it just so happened that in 2009, the Senate Democrats had some money available for allocation, so I took the prerogative of putting in $250,000 for the library. I don’t know if I would have done that if Pat hadn’t said, ‘Meet me in front of the library.’”
Last Friday, Stavisky, other elected officials and Queens Library representatives broke ground on the expansion of the Kew Gardens Hills branch, something Dolan, who was fatally struck by a car in 2011, had wanted for years.
“Today we break ground for a new generation of library users who need more space, more resources and more state-of-the-art technology in their local branch to pursue their interests, careers and dreams,” Queens Borough President Helen Marshall said.
The event was held in front of the now-closed Kew Gardens Hills Library, on the corner of Vleigh Place and 72nd Road. The corner was renamed in November 2012 Pat Dolan Way.
Even though elected officials, city representatives and members of the community attended the ceremony to break ground, almost all the speakers cited the late Dolan as the one person who made the expansion possible.
“I was unable to make the street rededication ceremony but I think that this one would have meant so much more to Pat Dolan,” said Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), who worked for the Queens Library before becoming a Council member. “Every time it looked like it wouldn’t happen, she doubled her efforts; and she cared about what it looked like — she didn’t just care about the size, she also wanted it to be beautiful.”
The new facility, set to open in 2015, will feature an additional 3,000 square feet of library space including expanded space for adults, teens and children. It will have double the number of public-use computers, fast radio frequency identification-powered self-checkout, 24/7 self-check-in and an expanded meeting room.
It will also feature an energy saving green roof and will be fully handicapped-accessible. The $10.2 million project was designed by WORK Architects.
“This is one of the most utilized libraries in the country,” Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz (D-Flushing) said. “It’s money well spent and you will get a return on every penny you put into this library.”
Currently, the Kew Gardens Hills Library is providing service in a temporary location at 71-34 Main St., directly across the street from the old building.
“This will be a fantastic library when it is finally finished,” Marshall said. “So many people in the community already come here to begin with, but this new one will be a great place. Libraries are important; they are important because they’re full of knowledge. You don’t have to go to the bookstores so much, just go to your local library.”
“The services provided by Queens Library have never been more critical for job seekers, students and parents,” Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) said. “I am happy to provide my full support for this much-needed expansion effort, and I congratulate Queens Library for their continued commitment to the people of this borough.”
The Queens Library is an independent nonprofit that is not affiliated with any other library. Serving a population of 2.3 million, it has one of the highest circulations of any public library system in the world.
“You know, libraries open their doors to everyone,” state Senator Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) said. “From the young child to the senior citizen looking to socialize, they open their doors to everyone. I personally use libraries as office hours to meet with constituents, and it’s that ability of the library to bring people together that is what makes this library so great.”
After the ceremony concluded, guests were invited across the street to the temporary library space for light refreshments.
While construction goes on, the Kew Gardens Hills Library is inviting people to bring in their pictures of life in Kew Gardens Hills through the years to be displayed in the temporary library.