2 Pratt branches closed for repair may not reopen

December 13, 1991|By Rafael Alvarez

Two branches of the Enoch Pratt Free Library that have been dark since May because of incomplete renovations will remain closed indefinitely because the library is too broke to staff them.

The branches are near Patterson Park at 158 N. Linwood Ave. in East Baltimore, where renovation has not yet started, and at 5714 Bellona Ave. in Govans. The Govans branch has received a new roof and a water-proofed basement and awaits interior work.

But even if both branches were completely rehabilitated today, neither could open for business unless the Pratt closed another branch to transfer staff.

"Our renovation funds are just about exhausted [this year], and we do not have the staff to open them," said Pratt director Anna Curry.

The Patterson Park and Govans libraries are lingering victims of the Pratt's latest budget crisis, brought on last month with $1.3 million in cuts to its annual budget of $16.5 million. Ordered by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, the Pratt cuts originally threatened eight of the system's 28 branches with immediate closing.

When the mayor found $200,000 of emergency money, the Pratt added $150,000 from its renovation budget and the cash saved three of the eight branches and put off closing of the other five until March.

But when the Pratt moved its renovation money, it ended renovation at Govans and postponed work at Patterson Park until spring at the earliest.

"They're not on any permanent closing list, but with the current crisis and the [economic] picture not very bright for [fiscal] 1993, we don't know how they figure into our plans right now," said Gordon Krabbe, the Pratt's chief financial officer.

"We could open Govans the way it is now and renovate as funds became available, but we'd have to close another site to staff it. That's the game we've been playing for at least two or three years, but that strategy won't work forever."

Neighborhood groups working to save branches in Canton, Pimlico, O'Donnell Heights, Hollins Market, and Gardenville met Tuesday with Mrs. Curry and were told of the bad news in Govans and Patterson Park.

"Everybody just sat there. People are so busy trying to keep their ownbranches open that it wasn't even sinking in," said Peggy Roth, a Canton resident who attended the meeting.

The east side of the city has been hit hardest by the closings, with four branches threatened: Gardenville in Northeast Baltimore, Canton, and the O'Donnell Heights branch on Dundalk Avenue near the county line in addition to the closed Patterson Park branch.

Community groups are now working on proposals to take the branches over from the Pratt and run them with volunteers and paid staff if they can afford it. The Pratt has offered to train volunteers until the end of February, but has said repeatedly that all help will end after that.

The first meeting of the library task force -- a group that includes Anna Curry, members of the trustees and community leaders and is studying community proposals for taking over neighborhood Pratt branches -- is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday at the Pratt headquarters on Cathedral Street.

"Mrs. Curry told us that the five branches are definitely going to be out of the system totally," said Ms. Roth. "But I wanted to know if we could still keep the interlibrary loan system for books and services if we were running the branch ourselves. She said it was negotiable. If we don't get that we're going to stagnate."

Ms. Roth added: "If we prove that we can set the branch up and run it out of the community, I think that's a very little crumb they could throw from their table."

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