Library head: Close Reiche branch


In danger of being permanently checked out: the Reiche School branch of the Portland Public Library. (photo/courtesy Portland Public Library)
In danger of being permanently checked out: the Reiche School branch of the Portland Public Library. (photo/courtesy Portland Public Library)

Library head: Close Reiche branch 
Monday hours at main library also slated for elimination 

By Chris Busby

Portland Public Library Executive Director Steve Podgajny has privately told city officials that a proposed budget cut will result in the closure of the branch library at Reiche Elementary School and force the main library in Monument Square to eliminate Monday hours. The reduction would leave the library with four branch locations – one on the peninsula – and the main library would be open only five days a week (it’s currently closed on Sundays).

Podgajny’s recommendation has not yet been made public, though it is expected to be brought up at tonight’s council meeting. West End residents are organizing in opposition to the Reiche branch’s closure. Several are expected to speak out against the reductions tonight, and a protest in front of the Brackett Street entrance to the Reiche branch has been scheduled for tomorrow at 6 p.m. 

Podgajny could not be reached for comment this afternoon. City officials and library personnel learned of his reduction plan late last week.

The city provides most of the library’s approximately $3.8 million annual budget. Last year, the library received over $3.1 million from the city. This year, it requested the same amount. City Manager Joe Gray proposed a $50,000 cut, and the council’s Finance Committee restored $20,000 in the budget now before the full council. A final vote on the budget is scheduled for May 19. 

Councilors have no authority to dictate how the library spends its money, and even if the remaining $30,000 is restored to the library, there’s no guarantee reductions or branch closures would not take place. 

Councilor Jim Cohen, chairman of the Finance Committee, said he understands from talks with library officials that an additional $30,000 would still not be enough to keep Reiche open. “I don’t see that we have the funds available in our budget to put back the amount of money that would be necessary to keep the library open as it is and keep this branch open,” he said.

Fellow Finance Committee members John Anton and Dave Marshall said they knew the proposed budget cut would result in some service and staff reductions in the library system, but Podgajny’s proposal has caught them off guard.

“I was pretty surprised that [Podgajny] was going to focus all of his service reductions on mainly one branch, and also that the downtown branch was getting affected, too,” said Councilor Marshall, a Finance Committee member whose district includes the West End. “They’re basically doing a double hit on the downtown.”

“If these changes had been more in the public discourse, we could have wrestled with them more,” said Councilor Anton, who also serves on the Finance Committee. Anton is an at-large councilor (representing the whole city) who lives in the West End.

Neither Marshall nor Anton said they are willing to provide additional funding to the library at this point. But both said Podgajny needs to provide more information before they are comfortable making a decision. 

“I don’t want to just throw money at the problem without [Podgajny] demonstrating that [the cuts he’s proposed] are the only solution,” said Anton. He added that he wants Podgajny to “work with the community in a transparent way to talk about his long-term plans for the library.”

Marshall said he wants to know the cost of continuing the current level of library services, and also wants the library to develop a long-term plan for its facilities. He said Podgajny needs to justify why the Reiche branch should close while other branches are relatively unaffected. 

“My constituents are upset about this,” said Marshall. “There’s been no attempt to reach out to the Reiche School neighborhood to let them know about this.”

“I’m really disturbed that the library would target just this one branch,” said Jo Coyne, a member, founder and past president of the West End Neighborhood Association. “I feel it could be done more equitably.” 

Marshall agrees, and said several other councilors share his concern that the West End is taking the brunt of the cuts. “I certainly want the director to look at equitability when he’s making those decisions,” he said. 

Of the library’s five branches, all but one are open 20 hours per week. The Burbank branch – located on Stevens Avenue, across from Deering High School – is open 40 hours per week. It’s unclear if any branches other than Reiche and the central library will face reductions. 

Coyne said the same “inner-city issues” that prompted Portland officials to build Reiche School and its attached community center in the West End in the 1970s are still relevant today. And she noted that improvements to the community center, which includes the branch library, are already underway. Federal funds amounting to $225,000 have been allocated to improve the community center this year. Future state funding to improve Reiche School may include additional money for the community center. And within the past year, the Reiche branch itself has gotten new windows and a face lift.

Unless library officials change their plans, it seems likely those windows will go dark indefinitely beginning this summer.

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