New York City libraries' good-repair backlog nearly $1 billion

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New York City’s three library systems have $947 million in capital needs to bring their branches to a state of good repair, according to think tank Center for an Urban Future.

Although this represents an improvement from four years ago, when combined capital needs totaled $1.1 billion, branches in every borough struggle to stay open due to broken boilers, leaky roofs and other serious maintenance problems, the center said in a report.

According to the report, New York Public Library — which oversees branches in Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island — has $400 million in capital needs today, roughly the same amount as in 2014.

Meanwhile, Queens Library and Brooklyn Public Library have respective capital needs of $319 million and $228 million, down from $405 million and $300 million, respectively, in 2014.

The report also found that the three library systems require $434 million in emergency capital repairs, amounting to 46% of all capital needs.

The center said Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council have taken important steps to grasp the libraries’ infrastructure problems. It noted that the de Blasio and the council have significantly increased city capital funds to libraries in the past few years, adding $300 million for libraries to the city’s 10-year capital strategy.

The report called on the mayor and council to fully fund the three library systems’ capital requests for the coming fiscal year, while developing a plan to meet the remaining capital needs over the next decade.

Overall, the total capital needs of the three library systems have decreased by $153 million, or 14%, since 2014, but still totals at least $947 million. Emergency capital needs have decreased by just $6 million, or 1.4%, and urgent needs of at least $434 million remain.

This includes $176 million in critical needs at New York Public Library, $172 million at Queens Library, and $86 million at Brooklyn Pubic Library. NYPL’s total critical needs includes $78 million in the Bronx, $70 million in Manhattan, and $27 million in Staten Island.

Four years ago, a report by the center highlighted the significant state of good repair problems—from malfunctioning mechanical equipment and leaky roofs to overburdened electrical systems and a lack of accessibility for older adults and patrons with physical disabilities—and showed that 59 branches citywide had at least $5 million in capital needs.

Today, the average city library is at least 62 years old. Manhattan and Brooklyn have 40 branches that have been in service for more than a century.

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Infrastructure Budgets City of New York, NY Center for an Urban Future New York