On April 18, Queens Library celebrated the grand re-opening of its library in Arverne, one of four on the beachfront peninsula known as “the Rockaways.” Members of the community and elected officials crowded the rebuilt library to marvel at how wonderful it looked and to trade memories about the dark weeks following Superstorm Sandy. Queens Library at Arverne was one of four Queens Libraries devastated by the October 2012 hurricane. Storm surge 4 feet high ruined the walls, furniture, computers and all electrical wiring. The community residents fared much worse. Economically challenged before the storm, they depended on their library for after school enrichment, computer access, job skills training, so much more.
Because of the community’s reliance, the library rushed to put an interim building in place just three weeks after the storm. It was powered by a generator and stocked with donated books and computers and printers donated by Best Buy. In the early weeks, the community was grateful for a warm indoor place with power outlets to re-charge cell phones and authoritative information about where their children would be going to school and how to apply for emergency benefits. They were also desperate to see positive evidence of community re-investment. Even people who had not been library users flocked in.
Although the Arverne Community Library previously had Monday-to-Friday service, Queens Library kept the libraries in the storm-affected areas open seven days a week during the first few months. A grant from Bank of America kept it open on weekends for the balance of the year. The library was so heavily used that circulation in the interim modular building became greater than it had been before the storm.
To accommodate the new economic reality in the community, increased job skills services and adult education services were scheduled during the morning hours. Residents could come to the library and become certified as home health aides or get their licenses to become contractors, in addition to the standard palette of library services, student support and adult education.
Meanwhile, repairing the permanent building was a priority. It took some time to figure out how the funding would flow, how much would be reimbursed by FEMA, etc. The library had been completely renovated 18 months prior to the storm. That turned into an advantage during the rebuilding: we already had the plans, we just had to build it again. The library re-opened to public service mid-March 2014.The “cost” of rebuilding of the library was $1.36 million. The “value” of rebuilding: priceless.