FRUSTRATED Activists push for answers on plan to save Canton library branch

March 12, 1992|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Staff Writer

The people working for months to save the Canton branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library met last night to remind the Pratt that they are tired of waiting for answers.

The historic branch on South Ellwood Avenue, the last original neighborhood library opened by local merchant Enoch Pratt in 1886, is one of eight that faced closing last year because of budget cuts.

Since November, residents, east side City Council members, neighborhood school teachers and members of the South East Community Organization have labored on a proposal to use students and volunteers to keep the branch open.

Bound and angered by red tape, residents complained last night that the longer the Pratt waits to vote on their proposal, the longer they are stuck with a library that is only open two days a week.

"So far we're frustrated," said Craig Spilman, principal of Canton Middle School and a key author of the Canton plan. "We're suggesting a partnership and the only way to forge a partnership is for both parties to hammer it out. At this point, we're the only ones at the table."

In a March 2 letter to SECO, the Pratt trustees said the Canton proposal would be reviewed by tomorrow, that recommendations would be made by March 20, and a meeting between the Pratt and the neighborhood would take place by April 15.

That's five months since the Pratt announced the Canton branch and seven others across the city would close because of $1.3 million in budget cuts by the Schmoke administration.

Elaine Eff, a folklorist and head of the city's Painted Screen Society, said: "In other words, wait for [the Pratt] and you'll die."

At the old brick library, James A. Ulmer III, president of the library's board of trustees, apologized to about 25 people for the dragged-out process and said that volunteers and partnership alone wouldn't solve the problem.

"I would like to be much farther down the line than we are, but the bureaucracy I head is grappling with something it never had to do before," Mr. Ulmer said. "The next step is to sit down with you and figure it. We need plans that are good enough to get the city and state to say, 'This is how we ought to be spending our money.' "

At a meeting yesterday, Pratt trustees approved a motion calling for the Pratt to submit a realistic proposal to the city asking for every penny, beyond state subsidies, needed to run the central library and 28 branches.

A citywide town meeting to discuss the future of the Pratt will be held at 7 o'clock tonight at the library's Northwood branch, 4420 Loch Raven Blvd. Pratt director Anna Curry is expected at the forum, along with library directors from Detroit, Philadelphia, and Washington. Money is certain to be a key topic.

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