Aug 22


Making the case for a library in a book desert

A community group in Broadway-Fillmore is lobbying for a branch library in their neighborhood, which had gone without one for nearly two decades.

The vacant Plewacki American Legion Post building at 385 Paderewski Drive is one site proposed for a library.

Concern over a book desert in the Broadway-Fillmore district has prompted a push for a new library branch in the neighborhood.

The Central Terminal Neighborhood Association has two possible sites in mind: the vacant Plewacki American Legion Post building at 385 Paderewski Drive, or the Central Terminal at 495 Paderewski Drive. 

“A lot of residents feel we were robbed when the library was closed,” said Chris Hawley, the neighborhood association’s president. “At the moment, it seems like there is an opportunity for a library to be established.” 

The association is reviving its push for a library branch following an Investigative Post analysis on the state of Buffalo and Erie County libraries.

That analysis found the county’s 2005 decision to slash library funding — leading to 15 fewer libraries countywide, including five shuttered on Buffalo’s East Side — has created a book desert in the Fillmore District, where the closest library is now a nearly three-mile walk for residents. Children living in book deserts, according to literary experts, often lag academically.

Broadway-Fillmore was once home to the Dr. Francis E. Fronczak Branch Library before it closed nearly two decades ago. That building is now a hardware store.

The neighborhood association first asked Erie County to open a library in Broadway-Fillmore about a year ago, in a letter to County Executive Mark Poloncarz. 

“We ask you to reverse this injustice to East Buffalo by reopening a library branch in Broadway Fillmore,” the group wrote to Poloncarz.

“Every child, indeed every adult, deserves a chance to learn and grow. The public library system has been a gateway to knowledge and opportunity for generations, but is now withheld from residents who most need access to this resource.”

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Poloncarz told the group he doesn’t have the authority to open a new library. The operations of a new branch — including staffing, furnishing, and utilities — would be up to the discretion of the Buffalo and Erie County Library system, he wrote.

The county executive also said the City of Buffalo would have to get involved since the city is responsible for the ownership and maintenance of branch library buildings within its borders. 

“The City of Buffalo would need to provide the location and be an active partner to the [library system] for the possibility of reopening a branch in the Central Terminal Neighborhood,” Poloncarz wrote. 

John Spears, director of the library system, said he’s interested in learning more about the association’s proposal.

“I am unaware of that. I would really like to speak to that group,” he told Investigative Post last week.

The Central Terminal is another site mentioned.

The neighborhood association has informed Fillmore Common Council Member Mitch Nowakowski and District 1 Erie County Legislator Howard Johnson, who represent the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood, of their desire for a branch library. 

Nowakowski did not respond to several requests by Investigative Post for an interview. 

Greg Olma, who previously served as a county legislator representing Broadway-Fillmore and a member of the Central Terminal Neighborhood Association, said Nowakowski needs to take a position on whether he’ll support a library for the community.

“It’s not going to go away. And you can’t duck it,” Olma said. “It’d be nice to see Mitch take a stand.”

Hawley, the neighborhood association’s president, said he’s discussed a branch library with Nowakowski and said he was “intrigued by the idea.”

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Johnson said he would like to see increased library support, but recognized funding could be an issue. He suggested bookmobiles as an alternative.

Mayor Byron Brown did not respond to a request for comment.

Buffalo currently owns or leases eight branch library buildings that are operated by the library system. 

The Plewacki site, built in 1948 and spans 26,000 square feet, is owned by the City of Buffalo. It previously housed the American Legion Post #799 and part of the Lt. Col. Matt Urban Center. It’s been vacant since the spring, Olma said.

“It could be a potential bridge within the Terminal and the neighborhood,” Hawley said. “Some kind of use should reoccupy the Plewacki Post, and a library might be one of them.”

The Central Terminal, owned by a nonprofit organization, is currently closed to the public due to ongoing construction. According to the Buffalo Central Terminal website, “there are significant structural and safety challenges that still need to be addressed before we can reopen our doors to the public again.”

Monica Pellegrino Faix, the Central Terminal’s executive director, did not respond to a request to comment. 

The Central Terminal Neighborhood Association was formed in March 2022 by two dozen residents. The group has committed itself to help restore the neighborhood and to “organize residents and build a community voice.”

In accordance with the association’s goals, Hawley said he was hopeful a library would return to the neighborhood. 

“Looking out toward 2032, between now and then, I think we could secure that investment,” he said.

Investigative Post

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