by Kelsey Shea
Last night, Children’s Museum administrators and partners met with the Northside community to discuss the future of the Allegheny Library building.
The museum is looking for space to grow into and is considering leasing the adjacent library building, which is owned by the city of Pittsburgh.
Roughly 100 people attended an open house that included tours of the building and the opportunity to hear the Children’s Museum’s plans and submit their opinions.
“We’re really looking to engage the community on this and ask for their input,” said Chris Siefert, Children’s Museum deputy director.
The museum has seen a large influx of visitors in the past several years, averaging more than 250,000 per year, and organizations within the museum, such as Saturday Light Brigade and Reading is FUNdamental have seen equal influx and have outgrown their space.
Other partnerships within the museum with the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University Food City Fellows, Volunteens and Youth Alive have brought space constraints at the museum to a “tipping point.”
The library building offers 45,000 square feet of additional space that can fill that need and also offer auxiliary performance space for the New Hazlett, which is connected to the library.
“We’re thrilled for a couple of reasons,” said Saturday Light Brigade founder, Larry Berger. “It’s a wonderful building with great history, and we strongly believe it would a positive thing to have it put back to community use.”
Berger also explained that SLB has grown so much that the extra space would be ideal for their teen programs and additional quiet space for recording, though their primary studio would remain in the museum.
The library has been closed since 2006 when lightning struck and caused $2 million in damage, which has since been repaired by the city.
Those in attendance last night filled out index cards expressing their memories of the library building and their hopes for its future.
Many wanted the library to be a public space and for developers to preserve its historic value. Some suggested a theater or community center be put into the space.
Others were more blunt and simply suggested, “don’t screw it up.”
Allegheny City Society member John Canning thinks the prospect of bringing back the building was exciting for their organization.
“We struggled to find places to do events sometimes,” said Canning. “This could be a huge asset.”
The museum estimates that it will cost $5.5 to $7.5 million to occupy the building and an additional $10-15 million to make it into a sustainable space.
Museum administrator s are exploring private, public, grant and government funding options, and hope to occupy the building by 2015 if they can reach a lease agreement with the city.
Siefert noted that their approach was much like Andrew Carnegie who paid for the construction of the library and had city run it as a public asset.
“We’d love to modify that model for the 21rst century,” he said.