HARTFORD —— The city library plans to move its Mark Twain branch on Farmington Avenue to Hartford Public High School, at least for the next few years, while a permanent location is built within another school in the Asylum Hill neighborhood.
The board of education unanimously approved the partnership Tuesday. Matt Poland, Hartford Public Library's chief executive officer, said the library board is "behind this 100 percent" and is expected to vote for the move soon.
The branch might begin operating at the high school's media center by September, Poland said.
Ultimately, the school system and city library want to relocate the Mark Twain branch to West Middle Elementary School on Asylum Avenue. The school board approved a nearly $55 million project for West Middle in March that would restore the 117-year-old school to "as new" condition by August 2015 and feature the public library, which would have its own entrance. That renovation relies heavily on state funding.
Tuesday's agreement is for five years or until the West Middle construction is finished.
Located in a leased, cramped storefront on Farmington Avenue, the Mark Twain library had to be closed half the time last summer because the electrical system faltered under the demand, said David Ionno, vice president of the library workers' union. In 2008, the library proposed closing the neighborhood branch and one in Blue Hills to save costs.
Meanwhile, a half-mile away on Forest Street, Hartford Public High has struggled to fill even half of its library shelves since the Lewis Fox Memorial Media Center was renovated a few years ago.
Hyacinth Yennie, a community activist who volunteers at the school, said Wednesday that she has talked about partnering with the public library at school board and city council meetings over the past two to three years.
"I look at Hartford High, that big, beautiful space we have there, and there are hardly any books in it," Yennie said.
Just one concern lingered before the school board's vote.
Ionno warned about the people who often frequent the public library during the day: the homeless. Lori Hudson, a board vice chairwoman, said she worried about "protection of the children."
Poland said the library will add two extra security officers to the media center during school hours. He also reminded the board that the Ropkins library branch has been operating at SAND Elementary School on Main Street since the 1990s — in case "you're worried we haven't done this before," he said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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