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Carnegie Library plans to add hours

| Tuesday, April 2, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Rosemary Merrell signed petitions and attended meetings nearly four years ago to keep the Beechview branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh open after the library board voted to close it and three others.

She and other opponents of the plan won that battle. Now they are celebrating the Carnegie Library's decision to add 79 operating hours a week across the system, beginning the week of April 14. That will bring the weekly total to 885½ — the most since 2002. In addition, the Downtown branch will open on Saturdays starting on April 20.

“I love it,” said Merrell, 65, of Beechview, who spends 10 to 15 hours a week at her branch, which will stay open until 8 p.m. three days a week. “This gives me more flexibility to do what I need to do during the day.”

Library officials credit the November 2011 passage of a 0.25-mill city real estate tax for the financial recovery. The tax raised $2.8 million last year and $3.9 million this year, much of the increase because of the court-ordered property reassessment. The library receives a portion of a 1 percent additional Allegheny County sales tax, collecting $19.1 million this year. An additional $705,000 could come from a tax on casinos.

“I would say they're on sound financial footing,” said David Donahoe, executive director of the Allegheny Regional Asset District, which doles out part of the sales tax to libraries, parks, stadiums and cultural groups. “I think they're managing it very well. Every nonprofit will always be under financial stress. It's part of the deal.”

Mary Frances Cooper, president and director of the Carnegie Library, remembers the dark days of 2009 when the library said it would close branches in Beechview, Lawrenceville, Hazelwood and the West End and move the Mt. Washington branch from Grandview Avenue. The library board later scuttled those plans because of community opposition.

“It's a good success story of a community working together,” Cooper said. “And for us, it's a big responsibility to ensure that we do everything we can to provide sustainable funding and quality library service.”

Chuck Staresinic, who opposed the plan to close his branch in Lawrenceville, credits the library tax for the turnaround.

“Now our library is not only open, we have more hours, more staff, a new slate roof and air conditioning and a whole lot of other improvements,” said Staresinic, 42. He uses the branch with his wife, Danielle, and four children.

Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or bzlatos@tribweb.com.

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