By Louise Scott, Gary Crusader
Once again the opening of the main branch of the Gary Public Library has come to another standstill. The Gary Library Board voted to delay voting on a proposal to close any branches that would free up money to help reopen the main branch. The decision came after Lake County Councilman Jamal Washington attended the meeting and said he will work with the County Council to find financial support to help keep the Kennedy branch open.
Board member Paula L. Nalls made the motion to table any decision the board was planning to make to close any of the current branches, particularly the Kennedy branch and possibly another branch.
Board President Odis Richardson said prior to the meeting, they were planning to vote on closing the oldest branches that have the most infrastructure problems. One of them is the Kennedy branch, which was built in the 1960s. The facility has been plagued with plumbing, electrical and roofing problems.
Richardson said some members want to close another branch, but he did not want to specify which one until the board makes a final decision.
He said, “By closing one or two of these branches we can open the main branch with the same people in these branches and don’t have to hire people for the main library, making it the hub of library services in Gary.”
Richardson said citizens could help influence the board’s decision on which branches to close by being more vocal about their preferences at meetings. He said, “Just as the schools and so many other institutions in Gary if you’re not getting the proper budget money, then it’s difficult to keep the places going and that budget money comes from people paying taxes. This is why our share of budget money becomes smaller and smaller.”
Although board member Robert Buggs was unable to attend the meeting, he did say that the board did not make decisions based on the number of people sitting in the audience. He said, “That’s politics. It doesn’t make a difference what they have to say. If it doesn’t change the financial situation it’s the same.”
Buggs said at a previous meeting he voted to close two branches and the board played politics and it didn’t get enough votes. He said, “The vote was 3 to 3 and it died. Then Nalls made a motion to close one library with the restriction that the library director Morrow choose the one that would close, but she said she wasn’t going to take that responsibility and I don’t blame her. That’s the responsibility of the board.”
Buggs agreed that Kennedy should be one of the libraries to close. He also said the Brunswick branch should be closed as well because it has the same problems as the Kennedy branch.
“The Brunswick library is the newer branch, but its parking lot has a lot of problems that cost thousands of dollars to fix and it is the least used,” Buggs said.
Over 50 people attended the meeting. They protested the closing of the Kennedy branch, saying the facility is an important part of the community because of the programs it offers. One woman teaches a sewing class there and another program is a Genealogy class that helps residents research their family roots.
One woman said her grandson who is autistic uses the computers at Kennedy, along with other autistic children to help them improve their speech. The grandmother said her son has learned how to use a computer after many trips to the Kennedy library.