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The New York Public Library Transforms Vacant Former Custodial Apartment At Washington Heights Branch Into A Teen and Adult Education Center

NEW YORK, NY  The New York Public Library today celebrated the completion of a $4.4 million renovation project that transformed the former custodial apartment at its Washington Heights branch into a dedicated teen area and tech center, with additional rooms for adult education programs.

The 3,750 square-foot space on the branch’s third floor opened to the public for the first time in its history following a ribbon-cutting ceremony with New York Public Library President Tony Marx and City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, who along with Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York State allocated the funding for the project.

Also in attendance was the family of Raymond Clark, who for decades acted as the branch’s custodian: the Washington Heights Library is one of the city’s original Carnegie branches, and as such, included an apartment for the building’s custodian, who needed to work 24/7 (to shovel coal, for example). Once Clark – described by his son as “the keeper of the temple of knowledge” – retired, the apartment was left vacant and closed to the public . . . until today.

“I’m happy that it’s going to be used; I grew up there as a teen, and I know that upstairs space will be a great spot for teens,” said Ronald Clark, Raymond Clark’s son who lived in the apartment in the 1970s and attended the event along with his daughter Jamilah Clark. “It is difficult to put into words what a difference it made to me and my daughter growing up in a library. It was a life changer. To be able to access that knowledge, to have it at your fingertips.

Even today, it’s hard to go by a library. If I go in, I can’t get out. I’m stuck.”

He added that he’s glad the space will “inspire the next generation of people to learn the love of knowledge that I learned growing up.”

The renovation of the custodial apartment marks the third phase of upgrades to the historic Carnegie library. The Washington Heights Library reopened in 2014 following an extensive renovation to the building’s exterior and three public floors. In the past year, the branch has seen more than 145,000 visits – a 12 percent increase over the previous year – with increased attendance at its children and teen programs and ESOL classes.

The newly renovated third floor, designed by Andrew Berman Architect, provides the branch’s teen patrons with an exclusive space featuring areas for after-school programs, media and computer programs, and general use. Adult patrons will also have access to a 25-seat classroom, a smaller eight-seat study room, and public computers – all of which will have IT and audio-visual capabilities. The floor also boasts a large multi-purpose room with 16 computer stations and seating for study and collaboration.

The project also included the addition of HVAC equipment to provide heating and cooling to the third floor; new bathrooms; ADA accessibility; the addition of power and data, lighting, finishes, furniture, and equipment; roof replacement; and extensive façade restoration.

With this important renovation, we are able to offer the Washington Heights community the wide array for educational programs it has long wanted and needed, transforming a long-vacant space into a center for teens, tech training, and adult learning,” said NYPL President Tony Marx. “We are so grateful to the Mayor and to City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez for supporting this effort, and allowing us to honor our past by giving the gift of learning to the future.”  

“This is a proud day for the Washington Heights community as our treasured library will now provide even more services to our students and neighbors,” said Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez. “I am so happy to support this project, bringing more educational resources to our hard working residents. This tech center will help to foster interest in tech education and lead students from our neighborhood to be the next scientists, doctors and tech designers of the future. This space should be used every day by those seeking the boundless knowledge our libraries have to offer and I look forward to bringing my daughters here as well.”

“Public libraries play a key role in giving everyone access to quality information and opportunities to foster community,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “By upgrading facilities and providing even more space for learning and educational initiatives, the New York Public Library is able to expand its reach and impact the lives of more New Yorkers than ever before. I’m proud the City was able to support this project, and look forward to continue working with The New York Public Library to build quality public learning spaces for the 21st century.”

Of the Library’s current branches, 32 had apartments at one time – all but 13 have been renovated or are currently being renovated into usable space (public, staff, or mechanical space). Thanks to capital investment from New York City, five of the remaining 13 will also be renovated in the coming years:  Fort Washington, Hudson Park  and 125th Street branches in Manhattan, the Port Richmond Library in Staten Island, and the Hunts Point  Library  in the Bronx.

Originally an independent neighborhood library, the Washington Heights branch joined NYPL in 1901 and moved into its current building, which was designed by Carrere and Hastings, in February of 1914. Similar to many libraries of the period, the Washington Heights Library featured a custodial apartment for the caretaker of the building.  

“The teens aren’t the only ones excited about the new teen center – the staff at Washington Heights Library has been eagerly awaiting its arrival as well,” said Library Manager Vianela Rivas. “With a dedicated teen center, the Library can now offer materials and programs that teens need – test prep books and workshops to help them succeed in school, informational interviews with professionals to help them identify future careers, an expanded collection of books and graphic novels, along with unique programs to fuel their education and imagination. We’re proud to be a trusted resource for teens in the community and the Library’s beautiful new space ensures that they can count on the Washington Heights Library to give them the space they need to learn and be inspired.”

The Washington Heights Library is open: Monday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Tuesday, 11 p.m. to 6 p.m.; Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Thursday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

About The New York Public Library
The New York Public Library is a free provider of education and information for the people of New York and beyond. With 92 locations—including research and branch libraries—throughout the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island, the Library offers free materials, computer access, classes, exhibitions, programming and more to everyone from toddlers to scholars, and has seen record numbers of attendance and circulation in recent years. The New York Public Library serves more than 18 million patrons who come through its doors annually and millions more around the globe who use its resources at www.nypl.org. To offer this wide array of free programming, The New York Public Library relies on both public and private funding. Learn more about how to support the Library at nypl.org/support.

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