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North Side library debate at historic dimension

| Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2007

Supporters of a new Carnegie library on Federal Street say the city can develop the North Side and still preserve a 117-year-old branch that has been closed for 20 months.

Annette Green, 66, of the North Side told City Council on Tuesday evening that redevelopment does not have to wipe out historic preservation.

"The two can live together in peace," she said at a public hearing on the proposed relocation of the library.

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh wants to move its Allegheny Regional branch from 5 Allegheny Square to 1210 Federal St. City Council is considering a resolution authorizing the transfer of the Federal Street property from the Urban Redevelopment Authority to the Carnegie Library.

The Allegheny Square site has been closed since April 7, 2006, when lightning struck the clock tower, causing a piece of granite weighing several hundred pounds to fall into the second-floor lecture hall. A 1-ton chunk of rock destroyed the building's heating and cooling system.

The lightning caused more than $2 million in damage. Insurance covered most of the cost.

The damage has been repaired, but library officials want the building, which opened in 1890, to stay closed and construct the new branch. The Federal Street site is near the old Garden Theatre, a former X-rated movie house that is being restored as part of a North Side development project

"We believe in the importance of historic preservation," said North Side resident David McMunn. "We also believe in redevelopment and appreciate a more accessible and updated library."

Carnegie Library spokeswoman Suzanne Thinnes said the new library would have 15,000 square feet of space, compared to 12,000 feet in the Allegheny Square building. She said it would provide access for the handicapped and parents with strollers, have wireless Internet access, a teen section and more children's programming.

The new building would house historic collections such as directories, meeting minutes and newspaper clippings of the former Allegheny City, a community that was annexed by Pittsburgh in 1907.

But opponents of the move complained that Carnegie Library had decided on relocating before getting public input or considering alternatives.

"I urge you to rethink your abandonment of this building," said Mary Barbush, 54, of Allegheny West.

Another North Side resident, David Tessitor, expressed concern about the fate of the building. It was named a historic landmark by the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation in 1970 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

"The No. 1 asset that the North Side has, besides the people who live here, is its historic character," Tessitor said.

Carnegie Library hopes to break ground for the building in the spring and open it in 2009.

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