On September 24, hundreds of elected officials, community members and young families walked through the glass doors of the Hunters Point Library, a 22,000-square-foot, 82-foot-high concrete building with glass cutouts on the sides.
Situated on the Long Island City side of the East River waterfront, the building, designed by the renowned architect Steven Holl, offers panoramic views of the east side of Manhattan. Hunters Point is the first new branch of the library system since 2007.
To mark the grand opening, Queens Public Library hosted a celebration in front of the building that included a boat water show from the FDNY and a musical performance from the Hunters Point Community Middle School.
“Here is the jewel, this is the building that everyone is talking about,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “It is not only because it’s beautiful, it’s because of what’s going to happen in here.
“It’s a place that will change people’s lives,” he added. “It’s going to be an anchor for this neighborhood.”
The LEED Silver-certified facility offers a collection of 50,000 books, audio books, magazines, movies, albums and more, according to branch manager Euni Chang. The library also has more than 2,000 Spanish-language materials and over 2,800 Chinese-language materials.
On the technology front, the site has 20 desktop computers for adults, 12 for children and another 12 laptops for teens.
Programs offered at Hunters Point, serving all ages, run the gamut from toddler picture book time and teen game day to trivia night and adult author talks.
The building itself, spanning six levels up to a rooftop terrace, includes a multi-level adult fiction section with reading counters and charging stations, children’s areas, teen area, quiet room, cyber center and 24/7 returns machine.
The ground-floor meeting room can seat up to 140 people as well.
“Our doors are open to you, to help you and collaborate with you,” Chang said. “This is your place.”
Dennis Walcott, QPL’s president and CEO, added that Hunters Point will be home to the library system’s first-ever environmental education center.
The library received a nearly $1 million grant over the next three years from the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the City Parks Foundation to offer science, technology, engineering and math classes and workshops.
“Our hope is that the center will add another exciting component of learning to this great library,” Walcott said.
The new branch was originally conceived in 1999 for a growing western Queens neighborhood. Gary Strong, former director of the Queens Public Library, recalled that the site was just a park at the time, and few of the buildings that now occupy the Long Island City skyline were built.
“It was a dream,” he said. “Libraries represent a fundamental public good in our democracy.”
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who was then a junior staffer at QPL when the project started, noted that Strong was the first person to mention that Long Island City would need a library.
Van Bramer recalled the library staff meeting with elected officials and pleading for them to “fund this vision.” When he was elected to the City Council in 2009, he pledged to see the project to completion.
“It is the single most important project of my life,” he said.
But as the councilman noted, the library “was on life support” several times throughout the process. It suffered from cost overruns that pushed the project budget to over $41 million.
It survived the departure of former Queens Library leader Thomas Galante, a support of the project who was fired over his spending practices.
Then there was the problem of the glass shipment from Germany to Spain, where a dockworkers strike held up the delivery to Long Island City.
According to reports, even the city’s Office of Management and Budget in the beginning did not believe Hunters Point needed a library so elaborate or large.
“Every time someone said it could be smaller, less grand or even that it was unnecessary, I knew they were wrong,” said Van Bramer, who has allocated $15 million to the project over the years.
De Blasio even acknowledged that the project “was not business as usual.”
“This was shooting for the stars,” he said. “Everyone resolved to do something beautiful, and this is what we have to be as a city.’
While many of the project’s early supporters, including the late Fausta Ippolitio, didn’t get a chance to see their children use the library, a new generation of young families will make good use of the new branch.
“You don’t do it just for yourself,” said Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan. “You do it for future generations who will get to enjoy it.”