Pratt's Govans branch is still looking for a new opening chapter Dreamers, fighters seek same goal: reopening library shut since '90.

July 28, 1992|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Staff Writer

Ed Pappas admits he is a dreamer.

He believes he will collect a great stack of books autographed by famous authors, get Sotheby's to hold an auction, and raise a big pile of money for the long-closed Govans branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

"I'm divorced, I have no children and I want to leave something behind," said Mr. Pappas, 62. "We have to invest in the intellect of today's children, give them some choices so they don't have to work for McDonald's or lie, cheat and steal."

Of all the Pratt's 28 neighborhood branches that have suffered through a decade of underfunding, understaffing and neglect, none has been shut down longer than Govans, closed to the public March 5, 1990, along with the still-closed Patterson Park branch on Linwood Avenue.

Joan Childress is not as affable as Mr. Pappas when it comes to the Govans library.

She is a fighter.

Forget about raising money for the Pratt, she says.

Mrs. Childress, her husband, Jim, and a group called the Friends of the Govans Library maintain that, however well-intentioned, citizen efforts to bail out the Pratt only obscure the real point: If the City that Reads was governed properly, the 25,000 people who depend on the Govans library wouldn't be in its third summer without service.

Said Mr. Childress: "Three years represents the total time a kid spends in middle school, it's three-quarters of high school, and the entire time a student spends in grades one, two, and three -- the years when a child either does or does not become a reader."

The Pratt's latest promise to the neighborhood is to reopen the library by July 1993.

By then, it says, the branch will be completely renovated with a new roof, new floors and ceilings and a first-rate heating and ventilation system -- the works.

The Pratt just doesn't know where it's going to get the money for a librarian to run the place.

"Given the uncertainties of the economy, we could have a newly renovated branch that we can't open," said Gordon Krabbe, the Pratt's chief financial officer. "Our expectation is that the city intends to open it."

Said Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke: "The issue is purely a budgetary matter. In the current budget the city gave additional money [$2 million] to the Pratt and a mechanism to increase the number of librarians. Two weeks later, the state announced a $1.2 million cut to the Pratt's budget.

"And that," the mayor said, "does not bode well for opening the branch."

Mrs. Childress and the relatively new group of about 30 people who belong to Friends of the Govans Library are demanding that the library open no later than Jan. 2, and they don't really care what the city has to do to make it happen.

"Since that library closed, we've fought a war, redistricted the city, re-elected a mayor, watched a new baseball stadium go up, and soon we'll elect a president. said Mrs. Childress, a Homeland resident who has spent much of the last two years trying to get the Govans branch opened. "If the mayor wanted it open, he could do it. He finds the money for things he wants. We don't mind being closed for a little while and taking our lumps, but this is too much."

Since 1990, Govans has been served by a bookmobile, when one is operable, that visits for one hour a week.

"I've lived here on Rosebank Avenue for two years," said Ellen Morris. "I have a library card, but I've never been inside the library because it hasn't been open. Our council people tell us to keep the pressure on the city, but we don't get anything back from our efforts."

Branch No. 22 is a classic, redbrick library at 5714 Bellona Ave. that opened about a mile from Enoch Pratt's estate on Woodbourne Avenue in 1921. The library was remodeled and enlarged in 1958.

When it was closed for extensive renovation in early 1990, the Govans library had the fourth highest circulation of all neighborhood branches, according to Virginia Fore, the last librarian to work there.

"Officially I am still the manager of Govans," Ms. Fore said. "When, and I say that hopefully . . . when and if Govans reopens, I will go back there."

The library was closed in 1990 for $300,000 in exterior repairs, but work did not begin until April 1991, more than a year later. It was completed in October.

"We have limited staff in our facilities division, just as we're limited everywhere else," said Averil Kadis, a Pratt spokeswoman.

Edward Bogier, chief of building management for the Pratt, has not yet begun the bidding process to spend $190,000 to fix up the inside of the building.

Meanwhile, Ed Pappas keeps on dreaming; Joan Childress keeps fighting; the Pratt continues to rob Peter to pay Paul; and the Govans library stays closed.

"We've got our first autographed book, 'The Climbing Tree,' by Carol McAfee, my neighbor," said Mr. Pappas. "Maybe we'll get the president's dog Millie to send us a copy of her book signed with a paw print."

Joan Childress would rather you pester the mayor, instead.

"The idea that citizens should raise money for a library that should already be operating with our tax money is far-fetched," she said. "Why should we pay for a service we don't have? Open the Govans library, and let the mayor staff his office with volunteers."

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