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Carnegie Library launches fund drive

$76 million effort needed to update 19 aging facilities

Friday, July 20, 2001

By Mark Belko, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is launching a $76 million capital campaign to update its 19 libraries, which have an average age of 79 years.

"The library has been a vital part of the Pittsburgh community," library Director Herb Elish said yesterday. "Although it remains an important educational and recreational resource, our system has been suffering nearly a century of neglect."

Elish said the library will pursue state and federal funds and private donations from individuals and foundations. It also will reallocate a portion of its annual funding from the Allegheny Regional Asset District from operational costs to long-term debt financing.

The money will go toward a number of improvements to the library branches, including furnishings, lighting, enhanced community meeting spaces and air conditioning. Five branches are not air-conditioned.

"We're not looking to build new facilities or even add luxury sky boxes," Elish said.

"Our goal is simply to provide the neighborhoods we serve with the highest quality collections, programs and services in facilities that are accessible, safe and comfortable for all of our customers."

Over the past decade, the library has spent an average of $406 a year on interior improvements or furnishings at each branch, or, Elish said, "essentially nothing."

He said the capital campaign is designed, in part, to address that.

Library officials hope to raise about $25 million in private donations. The rest would be financed through bond issues, the first of which would total $15 million.

Elish said the library plans to ask the RAD board for permission to reallocate about $1 million a year out of its $15 million operating subsidy to pay debt service on a 25-year bond issue. It also is asking the board to approve a $500,000 grant to make improvements at the Homewood branch.

"This is a work in progress," he said.

As part of its improvements campaign, the library hopes to build separate areas for computer users and computer training. It also wants to provide better accommodations for teens and children and to expand meeting space for community groups since libraries, Elish said, are "becoming more and more centers for community activity."

He said he is "very optimistic" about the library's ability to raise the needed money.

"This $76 million is 10 percent of what this community is talking about spending for sports stadiums. It seems to me that we should be able to raise that amount as a matter of what the appropriate priorities are," he said.

Elish said that each Post-Gazette Benchmark city has, on average, built or renovated 10 library facilities in the last decade. He said the average increase in users at those facilities has been 40 percent.

"It tells you there is real value in this," he said.

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