New Orleans city leaders and Carrollton residents celebrated the reopening of the Nix Branch Library after five months of renovations Monday morning with an official ribbon cutting, and officials promised to begin studying ways to address community members’ pleas for access for disabled patrons in the months to come.
The $320,000 renovations to the Nix library addressed a number of issues, such as plaster repair, plumbing and electrical work, repainting, a new floor, new lighting, a new layout and staff work area, and new furniture, computers and a self-checkout machine. On Monday morning — surrounded by a group of elementary students from the Waldorf School — Mayor Mitch Landrieu hailed the work as part of the ongoing improvements to the city’s library system.
“We have been in the process of over the last seven years of taking a library system that was completely broken — the buildings weren’t in good repair and there wasn’t adequate funding — to creating hopefully one of the best library systems in America,” Landrieu said.
In addition to the improvements to the buildings themselves, Landrieu praised voters’ decision to pass a new property tax to extend library hours and otherwise improve library programming.
Among the Carrollton residents at the ceremony was Claudia Garofalo, who uses a wheelchair and carried a sign lamenting the lack of access for her even after the renovation project. Acknowledging her presence, Landrieu and New Orleans Public Library director Charles Brown promised that an architect has been engaged this spring to begin studying how to provide wheelchair access to the building.
“This thing is not fully ADA compliant yet,” Landrieu said. “There’s a contract that’s being let this morning to make sure this library is fully ADA compliant so that everybody has access to it and can use it. That’s coming as well.”
Garofalo said that a ramp is not the only option; a lift could be used in the rear of the building, for example. For now, Garofalo said she will continue using the Rosa Keller library in Broadmoor to check out the Carl Hiassen books, biographies and historical-fiction novels she enjoys, but the trip is a frustration when Nix is so much closer to her home.
“The ramp is really long and really steep, and it’s very difficult for me to wheel myself inside,” Garofalo said. “It’s exhausting. To wheel yourself in a wheelchair all day long and then want to go to the library, it’s like going to physical therapy.”
The issue is complicated by the position of the building on a corner lot and by the fact that the lot next door is privately owned, Brown said. The restroom in the building poses another problem, Brown said, because it is too small to be compliant with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act as well.
“It is going to be a fairly significant undertaking, and that’s why we need a special architect to advise us on what needs to be done,” Brown said. “It’s just going to take some special expertise.”
After talking to Landrieu and Brown, Garofalo said she hopes the city officials are sincere in pursuing the plans they shared, and that they weren’t simply paying lip service to her in front of the cameras.
“They’ve had six years to study this issue, and suddenly now they’re going to have an architect on it within 45 days. I’m hoping that is the case, and I will follow up,” Garofalo said. “This isn’t just about me. It’s about a lot of people who don’t have the wherewithal to come out here and share their voice.”
The Central Carrollton Association has also been seeking improved access to the building for patrons who use wheelchairs, and H.V. Nagendra praised Garofalo for drawing increased attention to the issue Monday morning. Nagendra said he believes that the renovations were an important first step in stabilizing the beloved neighborhood landmark, and that wheelchair access should be the priority now.
“The renovations initially were to stabilize the building and get the basic systems in place to preserve the utility of the building as a library. The priority was to take deferred maintenance issues so that when the ramp comes, it will have some purpose,” Nagendra said. “Now we have fixed those problems. Now that the building is stabilized, the next step is to make it more accessible.”