Library Officials Consider Plans To Refurbish H Street NE Branch

Posted March 12, 2003 at 3:34pm

The R.L. Christian Public Library is proof that libraries matter. The library, at 1300 H St. NE, is in the beginning stages of plans for a new building to replace the portable facility that has housed it since 1981.

“It’s still very, very, very early in the planning stages,” said Patricia Pasqual, head of Targeted and Outreach Programs for the D.C. Public Libraries.

The recent interest in redeveloping the library is in response to the broader plans to redevelop H Street as a whole, and while the library project will be a separate endeavor from the local government’s H Street Strategic Development Plan, it will support the overall goal of bringing more people to H Street, said Tomika Hughey, executive director of H Street Main Street.

At a meeting on Feb. 25, residents of the H Street community were given the opportunity to voice their concerns and expectations for the new building. The majority of the 30 people in attendance expressed a desire to have more computers, extended hours and more adult programs, Pasqual said.

Hughey was in attendance at the meeting and she said she got the feeling that some residents were skeptical about the plan ever fully materializing, but she said everyone was in support of keeping and improving the branch library.

“The last thing anyone in their right mind would do would be to relocate that library,” Hughey said.

Pasqual said she and others involved with the library are mostly just “there for listening” at this early stage of planning. She said the primary goal is to build a library that fits the needs of the entire community.

“The community is adamant about keeping the library,” Pasqual said.

The library was originally founded in 1972 as a storefront library under the Model Cities plan, which sought to bring library resources to communities that weren’t serviced by the main branch.

When funding for the Model Cities program ran out, the library’s existence was threatened, but the Public Libraries’ Six-Year Capital Improvements Program came to the rescue. The library’s current building was part of the port-a-branch program, which provided funding for the prefabricated steel and glass structure.

The current building was intended to house the library only temporarily, but it has stood there for 12 years.

Although funding for the new building will not come from the recently reduced library budget, Pasqual raised concerns about where money will come from to pay the additional staff that will be required, if the new building comes into fruition.

“If we can get funding that’s great, but we still have to staff the facility,” Pasqual said.

Before any formal plans are drawn up, those in charge of the project are really just trying to take the pulse of the community, Pasqual said. Community surveys are available at the library, and Pasqual hopes to run focus groups with teens, children and seniors to get their input.