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Flushing Library Update

Flushing, NY (July 16, 2021)—Queens Public Library officials today notified elected leaders and community members that the Library’s Flushing branch, the busiest in the United States, will be closed until further notice when the City ends its vaccination operation there later this summer due to the failure of the building’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.

The heating, ventilation and cooling (HVAC) system became inoperable in late May, and despite multiple attempts and approaches, the Library and the City determined it could not be repaired.

Queens Public Library is working on an expedited basis with the City to replace the Library’s HVAC system, originally installed in 1998 when the then-newly constructed building opened for the first time. The design, engineering, and installation work may need to be completed in phases, taking many months. In the meantime, the Library and City are exploring temporary cooling and heating options.

In addition, the City has been planning to begin work on a new, additional public elevator in the building, potentially in the fall, which will necessitate a closure of the branch.

“We know very well that the library is the center of community life in Flushing and that it is an invaluable resource. So many people have been looking forward to the library’s reopening and unfortunately it is unclear when this will be possible,” said Queens Public Library President and CEO Dennis M. Walcott. “Replacing the HVAC system will take considerable time — it is an extremely complicated system — and we are working with the City to determine the best plan of action for installing a new one, and to evaluate options for a temporary solution. This work, along with the construction of a new, second public elevator, is enormously complex. We look forward to updating the community with further details as they become available."

On background, only for attribution to QPL officials:

  • In FY 2019, Flushing Library drew 1.7 million visitors, circulated 1 million items and brought in 184,000 program attendees.
  • Flushing Library closed in March 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It opened as a fulfillment center for requests in July 2020 and began providing to-go service in November 2020. The City converted the library into a vaccination site in March 2021, becoming its second busiest.
  • Flushing Library is a vital community resource. It is the first stop for New Americans. It buzzes with activity every day, from the moment the building opens to the moment it closes.
  • People from all five boroughs routinely visit to pick up materials in dozens of languages and dialects, read, study, gather with one another, or attend one of the hundreds of topnotch English classes, GED prep courses, technology workshops, job readiness classes, and other programs offered there each year.
  • The City of New York owns the building, and the agreement between the City and the Library governing the administration of the public libraries in Queens explicitly provides that the City, at its own expense, is responsible for such repairs or restoration as may be reasonably necessary in order to keep the library buildings in proper condition.
  • The building, completed 23 years ago in 1998, is the third to be built on the site — the first was a gift of Andrew Carnegie.
  • The building includes a 227-seat auditorium, a multi-purpose room for 150, conference rooms, exhibition areas, an Adult Learning Center and an International Resource Center.
  • It comprises 77,000 square feet, and required 28 million pounds of concrete, 1 million pounds of re-bar and steel, 30,000 linear feet of piping and more than 450,000 linear feet of electrical wiring in its construction.
  • The HVAC system is original to Flushing Library. It is enormously complicated, and consists of several components that together generate 2.4 million BTU (British Thermal Units)/hour. A major component of the system failed, rendering the system inoperable.
  • When the temperatures rose on several days in late May, the City installed portable air conditioners, which proved to be insufficient and did not keep the temperature and humidity within acceptable limits for the staff and the public.
  • The City was forced to relocate its vaccination operation to large buses parked outside the building, and staff are using the building as a staging area and are using its bathrooms.
  • The City has started moving its vaccination operations to an adjacent synagogue and plans to vacate the library later this summer.
  • Barring a change to state law or an emergency declaration that suspends existing procurement rules, the City will be constrained by law to using the traditional design-bid-build project delivery method used on the majority of City construction projects.

Contact: Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska, ekern@queenslibrary.org