Library: Past, Future Running Parallel

The James Prendergast Library is home to a pair of beautiful murals created decades ago by David L. Lawrence, a regional artist who at one time had four murals on display in the Jamestown area.

The first phase of a planned construction project would remove the walls that house one of the murals – which has understandably upset the artist’s family and spurred a fundraising drive to pay the estimated $8,000 to $10,000 it will cost to move the mural. The second mural would likely be destroyed in the construction project’s second phase, and family members say they want to begin raising money to save the second mural.

Those efforts are fine, but they shouldn’t hold up the library’s construction projects.

The first phase of the library’s construction project includes Americans with Disabilities Act compliance work, including upgrading a freight elevator to a passenger elevator and the installation of five restrooms to improve family use and accessibility, upgrades to the children’s room and the creation of a new teen space. The library has received $70,000 from the city of Jamestown for the project, will use $87,000 from its endowment, is raising $85,000 itself and received a $294,000 Public Library Construction Grant from the New York State Library.

That last grant is a sticking point. The grant stipulates the money must be spent by June 1, 2015 – an end date that was the impetus for the library’s plan to begin construction this April. As trying to save the murals became a priority for Lawrence’s family and their supporters, the library has pushed back the start of construction – but the latest construction can begin and still meet the grant deadlines is June 1, 2014. Even starting June 1 means the library will need everything to go perfectly to meet its June 1, 2015 deadline.

It would be wonderful if the mural can be saved, but saving the murals can’t take precedence over a project that will benefit hundreds of thousands of area residents each year. The work the library is doing will make the library more accessible and allow the library to broaden its offerings to groups of people who need the library’s services the most.

Lost amidst this discussion of saving the murals is this question – what happens if the murals are saved? The library already has a large art collection it must store. Library officials find themselves trying to shoehorn a 21st century library into a beautiful old building. Space is at a premium – and the murals in question take up a lot of space. Is the library required to house them forever? If the murals are to be saved, they should be saved quickly so the library can begin this much-needed construction project. And, there should be a plan for storing them if the library doesn’t have space.

Remembering the past is important. Saving relics from the past is important when possible. Preserving a part of its past shouldn’t hold the Prendergast Library’s future hostage.