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The Boston Globe: “Book to close on library mid-month”

The Boston Public Library branch at 40 Academy Hill Road, one of the system’s largest branches, will shut down Jan. 16 for renovations. When the building reopens 12 to 15 months later, it will have an elevator, new furniture and carpets, and extra computers.

But some Brighton residents aren’t celebrating.

“Why so long?” asked 72-year-old Galina Zhidkova, a Russian immigrant who lives nearby. “Does it really take a year to do the renovation? What are they trying to do – build a museum and attach it to the library?”

The branch has one of the largest collections of books and movies in Russian in the city, trailing only the Copley Square headquarters, estimates branch librarian Dorothy Keller. In a part of the city that’s home to many Russian immigrants, the Brighton branch has a Russian-speaking librarian and volunteers who offer classes in English as a second language.

Zhidkova said she has been planning to sign up for a conversation group to improve her English.

“Where will I go now? How long will it take me to get there?” she said, speaking in Russian. “I feel so bad it’s closing for a whole year.”

Zoya Melnikova, 73, who lives at the Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly complex, a 10-minute walk from the branch, said she has been visiting the library about twice a month to borrow Russian books and movies.

“For us, it was very convenient and very close; we could walk there,” she said.

When the library closes, Melnikova said, she will have to drive or take public transportation to Copley Square or the Newton Free Library.

But library officials say the project is necessary, noting the branch hasn’t been renovated since it opened in 1969. Joseph Hogan Jr., the BPL’s capital planning and implementation officer, said it is more cost efficient to close the building completely than to work around library users.

“Otherwise we would have to take into account an awful lot of additional safety steps,” he said. “Where taxpayer dollars are being spent, we’re trying to be good stewards.”

But why 12 to 15 months?

By contrast, a new Boston Public Library branch slated to open in Mattapan within a few months will have taken less than two years to build from scratch.

But Hogan said there are challenges involved with renovating an existing structure, such as not being able to bring construction materials in through the roof.

“We wanted to be honest and upfront and say it’s going to take a little bit longer,” he said. “It’s going to take a while, but it’s going to be worth it.”

The $5.5 million project will make the library more accessible to the disabled. Someone in a wheelchair will be able to open the front doors without assistance, and use the elevator to reach the other floors, said Carol Mahoney, the library’s neighborhood services manager. The library currently has ramps.

The renovated building will also be more energy efficient, Hogan said, with new heating and air conditioning, as well as greener lights. In addition, double doors and double-pane windows will minimize heat loss. Several large windows that had been blocked by wood due to vandalism will be uncovered to let in more natural light, and a vine-like tree will be planted near the front entrance to create shade, Hogan added.

The library’s books will be kept in storage during the renovation and will not be accessible by patrons, Mahoney said. While she acknowledged that Brighton has “a very good collection” of books in Russian and that those books are so well-used that the library “can’t keep enough of them in,” Mahoney said it would not make sense to redistribute them to other branches because many of the volumes were already scattered throughout the system.

At least one Russian-speaking senior is excited about the renovations. Alla Mazina, 70, who walks with a cane, said she is looking forward to the redone branch.

Right now “it is hard to go up the ramp to the second floor,” she said, noting that most of the books are not on the ground level.

“When they build the elevator,” she said, “it will be great.”

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