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New Grove Hall library and community center now open

Sandra Larson
Sandra Larson
Sandra Larson is a Boston-based freelance journalist covering urban/social issues and policy. She has contributed regularly since 2009 to the Bay State Banner, and since 2016 to VIEW BIO
New Grove Hall library and community center now open
The new Geneva Avenue complex housing the Jeremiah E. Burke High School, the Grove Hall Community Center and the Grove Hall branch of the Boston Public Library was officially opened with a community celebration on Saturday, April 4, 2009. Inside, an open glass-paneled staircase leads to the mezzanine level, as well as to the Burke school’s library, located on the third floor. (Photo: Sandra Larson)

Author: Sandra LarsonThe new Geneva Avenue complex housing the Jeremiah E. Burke High School, the Grove Hall Community Center and the Grove Hall branch of the Boston Public Library was officially opened with a community celebration on Saturday, April 4, 2009. Inside, an open glass-paneled staircase leads to the mezzanine level, as well as to the Burke school’s library, located on the third floor.

Neighborhood children, youths and adults joined city officials and community groups last Saturday at the opening celebration for the new Grove Hall branch of the Boston Public Library and Grove Hall Community Center, located on the campus of the recently renovated Jeremiah E. Burke High School.

“This is more than a library — it’s a hub of learning for the entire community,” said Mayor Thomas M. Menino after cutting the ribbon in front of the gleaming 16,000-square-foot library at 41 Geneva Avenue in Dorchester.

“I really congratulate the city in pulling this off,” said Boston Public Library President Amy Ryan. “We know in these economic times, people really need the library.”

Last Saturday’s celebration came on the heels of the unveiling of the library’s new Mattapan branch, which opened its doors Feb. 28. But the Grove Hall project, designed by Schwartz/Silver Architects Inc., is the first in Boston to combine a public library, a community center and a school.

 “This is what community organizing is all about,” said Mike Kozu of the nonprofit Project RIGHT (Rebuild and Improve Grove Hall Together), as he described the 12-year process of bringing the project to completion and its likely positive impact on the Grove Hall neighborhood.

Away from the ceremony, in the children’s room, Caroline Ambris and her 7-year-old son, Jeantee, sat at a small table reading a book about cars. She pointed out the glossary and the table of contents to him. Next up was a book about pets.

“He’s getting a library card today,” said Ambris. They live “right up the street,” she said, and will be coming to the new library often.

At a nearby computer, children’s librarian Laura Koenig helped a young girl find information about the famous astronomer Galileo.

A glass partition separates the children’s room from the rest of the ground floor, a high-ceilinged open area holding some of the library’s 45,000 books, DVDs and magazines, and 16 computers for adults. Eight more computers are available in the young adult area, plus eight in the children’s room.

A dramatic open staircase lined with orange-tinted glass panels ascends to a mezzanine with young adult collections and group study rooms.

Jean Isme, 15, and Orrin Simmons, 16, were taking in the young adult section.

“It’s great,” Isme said. He said he would use the library to find books and to use the computers for fun, for studying — sometimes — and for job applications.

Simmons, 16, a Burke High School sophomore, said he would come for books to read on his own, and that he likes fiction better than nonfiction.

Pamela Taylor, 62, of Dorchester, relaxed with her mother, Marion Taylor, in the “jazz lounge,” an open area of the mezzanine with comfortable chairs and tall windows.

“It’s bright and airy,” said Taylor approvingly. She said she likes the idea of “a learning center,” a community complex where kids can feel safe, with plenty of computers for them to use.

As a child, Taylor said, she would take the bus to the Egleston Square or Copley Square libraries with her mother, who would browse while she looked at children’s books.

“I’ve always had a love for libraries, instilled by my mother,” she said. Marion Taylor, now 83, works at the Grove Hall library as a shelver.

Some at the event expressed more tempered enthusiasm. Jeannette Sisco of Mattapan, a school librarian for 34 years who works at the West Roxbury Educational Complex, said she worries that a move toward combining public libraries and schools will result in funding reductions for school libraries. Burke High School has its own library on the third floor, above the Grove Hall library, but Sisco wonders if school librarians are “being buried.”

From a community perspective, though, the new complex is a good addition, she said.

Daphne Griffin, executive director of Boston Centers for Youth and Families, spoke of the importance of community centers, which she said may have provided many of the adults and youth in the room their first summer job.

Project RIGHT’s Kozu praised Burke Headmaster Carol Bradley Moore for working to ensure that the building design would be not only beautiful, but also practical for student use, and asked the members of the community in attendance to keep their eyes on the new building.

“As we build things up, someone always tries to tear it down,” he said. “We’re working together to improve stuff. Don’t tear it down.”