The Coney Island Public Library will reopen on October 23rd. It was one of five borough libraries devastated by Hurricane Sandy, and “was completely demolished,” said Debi Ryan, Development Director of Coney Island USA. “There was nothing you could really save.”
Rebuilding the library cost $2.6 million, said David Woloch, Executive Vice President for External Affairs at the Brooklyn Public Library. The bulk of the funding came from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and insurance money. “There was a lot of damage,” he said. The library “lost all the technological and computer equipment.” It needed a new boiler, elevator, and electric system. “The entire first floor had to be gutted.”
The opening comes three weeks after the Gerritsen Beach Public Library reopened. The other storm-damaged libraries – in Gravesend, Red Hook and Sheepshead Bay – reopened months ago. With both branches, “we almost had to start anew,” Woloch said. The Daily News reported that the two libraries had to throw out over 35,000 books and DVDs. And, added Woloch, the employees of both were temporarily relocated to other branches—six from Gerritsen and nine from Coney Island.
Shortly after Sandy, the Brooklyn Public Library released images detailing the floodwater damage. In these photographs, waterlogged books lay littered across the floor, and the bottoms of wooden bookshelves are darkened with absorbed moisture. But Woloch explained that if the new Gerritsen branch is any example, “Coney Island will look and feel like a new library.”
Ryan, who was born and raised in the neighborhood, said the fact that the library is opening “is a testament to Coney Island’s resiliency.” She explained that some local residents were frustrated with how long it has taken to rebuild, but “the reality is recovery takes a long time. It’s a process like everything else.” Woloch said the community frustration is understandable, but that is why the Brooklyn Public Library “worked feverishly to get them back.”
Ryan explained that there was friction between the recreational and residential districts of Coney Island this past spring because the revitalized amusement parks reopened far ahead of the rest of the neighborhood. But with public buildings, she said, there is a bureaucratic process involved; “you can’t just get a bunch of volunteers in there to get the job done.” As someone who both lives in and works for Coney Island, she understands why locals were upset, but also why the “economic engine” of Coney Island—the amusement sector—needed to open as soon as possible. Now, “it’s not just the businesses in Coney Island that are coming back. The community is coming back in the form of the library.”