Why Is New York City Planning to Sell and Shrink Its Libraries?

Defend our libraries, don't defund them. . . . . fund 'em, don't plunder 'em

Mayor Bloomberg defunded New York libraries at a time of increasing public use, population growth and increased city wealth, shrinking our library system to create real estate deals for wealthy real estate developers at a time of cutbacks in education and escalating disparities in opportunity. It’s an unjust and shortsighted plan that will ultimately hurt New York City’s economy and competitiveness.

It should NOT be adopted by those we have now elected to pursue better policies.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Open Letter To Saint Ann’s School: Please Oppose the Sale and Drastic Shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library

September 12, 2015

Saint Ann’s School
129 Pierrepont Street
Brooklyn Heights, NY 11201

Re:  Please Oppose the Sale and Drastic Shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights  Library

Dear Saint Ann’s School:

We write this a letter to Saint Ann’s school.  By that we mean that the intended recipient of this letter is the entire Saint Ann’s School community that comprises the school to make the school what it is, not just the management, its board of trustees or those formally in charge as decision makers, but also the faculty, the students, the parents and the Saint Ann’s alumni.  Accordingly, we ask this letter be forwarded and shared with all accordingly.

We ask that Saint Ann’s side with the community in taking a stand against the proposed sale and drastic shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library, the central destination library in Downtown Brooklyn.

Saint Ann's School was nurtured and incubated by this community when it was founded in 1965.  At a time when it had only 63 students and seven teachers and was located in the basement of St. Ann's Episcopal Church it depended on the richness of the resources in, and provided by, the community surrounding it to have a full fledged existence.  Saint Ann’s should not now, with greater wealth and self-sufficiency, turn its back on the value of a public commons and resources we all can and should value and that some inevitably at times must depend on more than others.

Join with us to amplify the voice of the community.

Saint Ann’s owes its genesis to its original affiliation with a charitable, community-minded church, St. Ann's Episcopal Church.  While that formal affiliation has been discontinued, it is still one more reason for us to call upon you to act with a conscience and conscientious community spirit.  We hope you have not strayed so far from your origins that you would work against the greater good.

We know that Saint Ann’s will benefit substantially from a financial standpoint by the selling and shrinking of the library.  The exact sum is vague and undisclosed at this point.  The developer, after refusing to address the question for months, ventured without documentating evidence that the sum of actual money is less than six million dollars.  Saint Ann’s has been publicly quiet about how it will benefit, or how much, and about what its participation in these real estate deals has been behind the scenes. . .

. . .  But, whatever the public does not know, we know that previously, as part of the exchange, Saint Ann’s was to receive from the developer in his 400 foot project a student theater of 20,000 square feet, the same size that the Brooklyn Pubic Library (and city’s real estate corporation) specified for the vastly shrunken library in its developer Request For Proposals.  We also know that the developer’s architect is concurrently doing other work for Saint Ann’s.

Your private benefit from these transactions will come because one of your school buildings has unused development rights that you can sell, passing through Forest City Ratner, so that the developer can build his tower bigger.  But we think that you should tear down and rebuild (or build on top of) your own school building, instead of the public having to tear down, rebuild and shrink an important library for you to achieve this private benefit.

We don’t know everything that Saint Ann’s has done quietly and behind the scenes with respect to this transaction, but, whatever you have done, we call upon you now to lend your voice to join with the otherwise virtually unanimous voices of the community in opposing this sale.  We also call upon you not to sell your development rights to the developer, inducing this library sale and shrinkage to further proceed.

We believe that if you do anything less than this, the community can rightly take umbrage at your choice to diverge and pursue private benefit effected by an inexcusable public loss.

Please, join with us.  Do the right thing and do it quickly.


 Michael D. D. White and Carolyn E. McIntyre
Co-founders of Citizens Defending Libraries

* * * *

Saint Ann's School Response

Saint Ann’s School has written responding to our open letter (image copy below)

They say that they are dedicated to pursuing the profit they will make from the sale and shrinkage of the Brooklyn Heights Library.  One interesting contradiction that came out: Developer David Kramer of the Hudson Companies earlier said that Saint Ann’s was willing to disclose how much money they were making on the transaction.  This letter defended Saint Ann’s right not to disclose that information and didn’t furnish it.

The text of the letter will appears below. . . .

Saint Ann's School
Vincent Tompkins
Head of School
October 6,2015

Carolyn E. Mclntyre & Michael D. D. White
62 Montague Street, Apt. 3E
Brooklyn^ Y 11201

Dear Mr. White and Ms. Mclntyre:

Thank you for your letter of September 12 regarding the proposed sale and redevelopment of the Brooklyn Public Library branch in Brooklyn Heights. I am grateful for the opportunity to address the concerns you have raised on behalf of Citizens Defending Libraries about this project.

There have been many misperceptions about Saint Ann's role in the redevelopment of this site. Our interest in attaining additional space on the site so that we could better carry out our educational mission was on the basis of a simple purchase of condominium space in the building, and in that regard no different from the transactions that we assume will occur between other condominium owners and the developer if this project goes forward. The space we sought was, with the exception of a small entry lobby, entirely underground and therefore had no impact whatsoever on the space allocated to the library, and was in no way subsidized by any public or private entity. Further, it is our understanding that the amount and location of space to be provided to the library was specified in the RFP. which was issued by both the EDC and the Brooklyn Public Library.

As you know, Saint Ann's made a decision last spring not to pursue a condominium purchase. The potential sale of school air rights has always been an entirely separate, private transaction between the school and the developer. Because it is a private transaction the school has not felt it necessary or appropriate to make public the sale price we might receive for air rights. I would further point out that some of our air rights will serve to increase the amount of affordable housing that will be constructed as a result of this project. As was the case with our potential condominium purchase, the inclusion of our air rights in this development will do nothing to impinge on amount or location of the vital public space for a new library.

As an educational institution that has been part of the Brooklyn and greater New York communities for half a century we arc strongly in favor of a robust, accessible, and well-funded public library system. We will continue happily to abide by the decisions that our elected and appointed officials, the agencies they appoint, the local Community Board, and other representatives of the public interest reach in this matter. And we welcome all of the voices that members of the community on both sides of this issue have lent to the public review and approval process. Robust, honest, well-informed and open-minded debate is critical. As a vibrant Brooklyn Heights institution we will continue to do right by our educational mission and our responsibility to the community we are honored to serve.

Sincerely yours.

Vincent Tompkins
Head of School

129 Pierrepont Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201 718-522-1660 X202 / vtompkins@saintannsny.org
NOTE from Citizens Defending Libraries: The motto on the Saint Ann’s School seal, “Altiora Peto” translates as "I seek higher things" or "I strive higher."

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