- Alexandra Seltzer Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Miranda Houston, 16, and her mother, Deb, come to the Boynton Beach City Library nearly everyday after the 10th grader completes her home-school studies. They sit in the chairs by the library’s entrance and use the free WiFi because they don’t have it at home.
Deb checks her email, she browses different websites and signs on to Facebook and Instagram. Miranda does the same, though her newest obsession is Pinterest.
In the row in front of the Houstons is Gloria Heissenberg, 64, who spends her days at the library reading. Right now she’s into Cowboy books. Before that, mysteries. She buys lunch at the library’s A Bite 2 Eat Soul Food Grill and Catering cafe — often chicken noodle soup.
Across the room on that Thursday is John Schojbert, 34, making a phone call to his mother. Schojbert also comes to the library just about everyday and usually meets his AA sponsor there.
It’s not surprising to Craig Clark, the director of the library, that residents come here to do more than check out a book.
“It’s kind of becoming a community living room if you will,” Clark said. “They’re kind of a third place. You have your home, your work, and the library.”
As part of a major $250 million, 16.5-acre Town Square redevelopment project, the library, which is used by about 1,000 visitors daily, will be torn down and replaced with a new, more modern, one.
The city is working to find a temporary place for the library until construction is completed, but as of now, city officialshaven’t made a decision. Officials plan to close the building at 208 S. Seacrest Blvd. in April, and begin demolition in May. The new 21st century, technologically-updated library will be built with a City Hall by September 2019.
City officials have held workshops to discuss the development project and at a recent meeting, Commissioner Joe Casello questioned if the city needed a library. The crowd gasped, teaching Casello that the library is not something the community will do without. But there are other residents who probably question the same thing, Clark said. Despite that, the city promises that the new library will be better for the community.
In addition to the Wifi, charging stations and books, the library offers several educational programs, including computer, financial, health and technology classes. It hosts the AmeriCorps educational programs for homework help, English as a second language and college prep.
“People think of libraries as, it’s a quiet place where you read books and the librarian will shush you if you’re too loud,” Clark said. “It’s not that way anymore. People come here because they want to be here and they use the library to improve their lives.”
The new library will be just about in the same location, but smaller. The existing one is about 63,000 square feet, said Clark. The new building is expected to be about 105,000 square feet with 45,000 of that for City Hall. About 4,000 square feet will be used as a business incubator area for teens to learn technology and for small businesses to rent out. That leaves about 50,000 square feet for the library, said Colin Groff, assistant city manager.
But those who use the library daily are worried about the temporary location.
“The library is our second home and the place we go after school to get our homework done, read, and hang out with friends, with many of us spending hours there and then we walk home. And we walk our younger siblings home, all of whom take advantage of the free homework help at the library,” said Tamara Sydne, a 17-year-old senior at Atlantic Community High in Delray Beach.
Sydne said she and her friends are worried about how accessible the temporary location will be since so many students walk there now.
“If it’s moved to Congress (Avenue), how will they get the resources they need? If they like to make music, they can come into the virtual room and make music. If it’s far away, how will we use the resources that are provided for us?” she said.
Groff said the city is trying to find a location that’s convenient and large.
“The key is we’d like to have something as close as possible to where it is now. The problem is there’s no space available,” he said.
He said the city has met with concerned students and they’ve helped officials with navigating through the project.
“We have a very engaged young group that is really helping us with the project and we find it extremely exciting that they care enough to be engaged,” he said. “We know we’re tearing down a library. We understand people get upset when they use the library all the time.”
Clark has had experience with moving library operations when he worked at one in St. Louis. Clark, who started at this library 13 years ago, said having the building torn down will be bittersweet. He helped decorate it when it was renovated in 2009.
“In some ways, it’s sad,” he said. “But we’re looking at fresh ideas and updated ideas. It’s going to be great for the community.”