August 3, 2018 By Nathaly Pesantez
Long Island City is fuming over yet another delay to the long-stalled Hunters Point Library, with a new petition calling on the city to make amends with the community and sanction those involved in the project’s mismanagement.
The library was last scheduled to open in February 2019, one of the many blown deadlines since the original 2014 target date, later changed to the first part of 2017, for the failed project.
Now at $41 million, the library is twice the original cost, and has been delayed for various reasons, including glass shipments held up in Spain because of a worker’s strike, change ups in the building’s complex design, and a rescheduled groundbreaking.
“This delay is unacceptable in a project that has been planned since development began in Hunters Point over 20 years ago, and has been in process since at least 2010,” part of the petition reads. More than 650 people have already signed the petition.
Meghan Cirrito, president of Friends of Queens Library at Court Square and a libraries advocate, said the project is an embarrassment and a glaring testament to government waste and inefficiency.
“What I’m seeing is a lack of accountability from up high, and a lack of urgency,” she said.
Her group, along with the Hunters Point Civic Association, the LIC Coalition, and more, are unified under one name—LIC United—and are now demanding that the mayor implement an accelerated construction timeline for the project, among other solid actions.
“If the mayor puts his weight behind this, we can actually get the timeline pushed up and have this expedited”, said Brent O’Leary, president of the Hunters Point Civic Association. “We deserve that because this was supposed to open a long time ago. This should be a priority.”
A committee, they say, should be formed to investigate what went wrong with the project, and penalties should be issued to those involved in creating the fiasco, including the Department of Design and Construction, Queens Library, and Triton Structural, the contractor.
“We have placed our trust in the city, the DDC, and Queens Library to shepherd this project through correctly and ethically, and they have lost it,” Cirrito said, adding, “If the people currently on the project are not the right fit, then we need new people.”
The committee should also issue recommendations for redress to the community, LIC United says.
Seven day a week library service is a must once the library opens, Cirrito said, and mobile library service should be offered five days a week until then, rather than the mere five hours of library service a week seen today.
Other demands include greater transparency in communicating the project’s progress to the neighborhood, daily oversight of the construction site, and for original elements excluded from the project to be incorporated into the final library.
“These demands are a way for the agencies and the elected officials to regain trust from the community and right their wrongs,” she said.
The DDC said it, too, wants to finish this project as quickly as possible.
“We welcome any efforts that would streamline the capital construction process,” said Ian Michaels, a DDC spokesperson.
Michaels said the project has had construction difficulties, but that the agency is working “very closely” with the contractor to complete the project.
“The design itself was modified during construction, and those adjustments extended the schedule,” Michaels said. “When it’s done it will be a great addition to the community and a major cultural attraction for Queens, and we expect it to open next summer.”
Queens Library said in a statement that it recently met with community members to address their concerns (a tour on site that Cirrito attended).
“Queens Library understands the community’s frustration with the delays on the Hunters Point Library project,” a Queens Library spokesperson said, adding, “Jointly with DDC, we will also be speaking with local residents and their representatives at a Community Board meeting in the fall.”
Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, who told the LIC Post last week that the most recent round of delays are at the hands of the project’s contractor, said he wholeheartedly supports LIC United’s petition.
“This contractor and the abject incompetence by the Department of Design of Construction over the last four years has put us where we are today,” Van Bramer said.
The Council Member, who has harshly criticized the DDC’s “horrific” mistakes that have led to the library’s state, said the project now has direct oversight on behalf of deputy mayor Laura Anglin and Lorraine Grillo, the new DDC president who also heads the School Construction Authority.
“I have noticed that the Library has clearly been prioritized,” Van Bramer said. “However, this new effort does not compensate for the incompetent contractor who has stepped away from the project.”
In addition, Van Bramer says de Blasio should personally pay a visit to the site so he can be held accountable for the project.
The mayor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
“The community understands that it was mismanagement that caused this,” O’Leary said. “And we’re not going to accept being without a vital service that has been promised to us for so many years.”
Cirrito, who has worked as a librarian for several Queens Library branches, says the project’s delays have not only cost taxpayers millions, but has deprived the neighborhood of a service that offers more than just books.
“There are tangible benefits to having public libraries in a community,” she said. “My concern, as a public library supporter, is that this project has created a generation of families who don’t find value in libraries.”