Carnegie Library lands lot for $1
The Urban Redevelopment Authority on Thursday agreed to give the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh a vacant lot on the North Side to build a replacement for the library branch that was heavily damaged by a lightning strike in early April.
The development agency’s board voted unanimously to transfer a 16,500-square-foot lot at 1210 Federal St. to the library for $1, despite complaints by half a dozen people who believe the old Allegheny Regional branch at 5 Allegheny Square on the North Side should remain a library once repairs to the building are made.
“Some decisions have to go past the business sense and must take into consideration historical importance, heritage and the importance to the community,” said Stephen Pietzak, of the South Side.
A lightning bolt that struck the clock tower of the old building, built in 1890, hurled chunks of granite through sections of the building’s roof, causing an estimated $2 million in damage.
Repairs to the historic building, which is owned by the City of Pittsburgh, will be covered by insurance. The Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation has agreed to work with the city to find another use for the building.
Library officials believe the building — the first of the public libraries built by steel magnate Andrew Carnegie — no longer fits the vision of what a contemporary library should be, said Barbara Mistick, executive director of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.
“In addition to being expensive to operate, it is not very open and inviting, which is especially important for children,” Mistick said. “And it is difficult to add the technology that has become vital to the services we provide.”
The building also is not fully accessible to people with physical disabilities, she said.
Increasingly, Carnegie officials have placed a higher priority on whether a library is conveniently located on public transportation lines and is able to provide the amenities patrons have come to expect, over the historic value of the structure.
Mistick said a time frame and cost of construction for the new library have yet to be determined.
In addition to approving the property transfer, the redevelopment authority board voted to apply to the state for $7.5 million in redevelopment grants on behalf of the Carnegie Library, which is in the midst of a $55 million capital campaign to renovate its branches.
The library has raised about $32.5 million. Six of its 19 branches have either been moved to newer buildings or renovated.
Tony LaRussa can be reached at email@example.com or (412) 320-7987.