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Library unveils new facility, arts center

The new Roosevelt library and cultural arts center

The new Roosevelt library and cultural arts center will host its official grand opening from Oct. 25-27. (Oct. 19, 2012) Credit: Linda Rosier

The Roosevelt Public Library will raise the curtain Thursday on its renovated facility and new cultural arts center.

Library officials will host a symbolic grand opening to showcase the two-level library and three-floor cultural arts center, connected by two walkways. The three-day celebration will feature a ribbon-cutting ceremony, activities, programs and performances.

"This is really the introduction to the community," said library director Joy L. Rankin, adding both buildings were open for public use in May, with the exception of the 208-seat auditorium. "It is really taking the library to the next level."

The $11.8-million project more than doubled the library's total space to nearly 32,000 square feet, providing community rooms, study rooms, several computer labs, wireless capability and an outdoor stage. The partially solar-powered cultural arts center, designed by library vice president Frank Abel Jr., houses an atrium featuring a piano surrounded by portraits of African-American activists and artists. Its auditorium has a large movie screen, backstage area and changing rooms.

The library was founded in 1934 and moved in 1994 into its current location at the corner of West Fulton Avenue and Nassau Road. The library has one of the largest collections of African-American literature in the region, library officials said.

Longtime patrons such as Michelle Byfield recall when the children's reading room was small and cramped, and the main floor crowded with computers and bookshelves.

"It's lovely," Byfield said about the renovated library and new center. "It is an improvement on what we had."

The construction was funded with $8.5 million in bonds, obtained through the Town of Hempstead, $115,000 in grants and the rest from the library's public funds. The debt incurred from the issuance of the bonds will be repaid by the district.

"I am so proud," said Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby, who was instrumental in getting the project off the ground. "I just want to make sure the people and the young people appreciate it because it is going to be there for many, many years."

Four years ago, controversy erupted when then-library president Natalie Connor was charged with embezzling more than $47,000 from the library's foundation to pay for airplane tickets, car repairs and fast food meals. She pleaded guilty in 2009 to stealing from the foundation, created several years earlier primarily to raise funds for the expansion project. The foundation no longer exists.

Library officials said they hope the new center will nourish the arts in Roosevelt via theatrical performances, poetry shows and jazz concerts at no or low cost to residents.

"Roosevelt has been a community that has a lot of talent and we need to expose that talent by having something like the cultural center," library president Wilton Robinson Jr. said. "We would like to see more people get involved with the arts."

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