The opening next month of the branch library in the St. Louis Marketplace will cap years of work to restore a neighborhood library to southwestern St. Louis.
Franz Park, Dogtown, Cheltenham and Ellendale have not had their own branch library since 1981, when the library closed its Benton branch in Roe School at 1921 Prather Avenue.
The passage last June of Proposition L, a property-tax increase for the libraries, is underwriting the new branch. About a fourth of the library's expected income of $16.5 million this year comes from the new property taxes, says Deputy Director Waller McGuire.
Gerald Brooks, manager of community affairs for the library, said the library board had wanted to open a Dogtown branch before but had lacked the money.
"There was a void there, and we knew there was a void there, but we could not fill that void any faster than we have," he said.
Neighborhood leaders don't see it that way. Library officials "only moved to increase library services for the Dogtown area as the result of a threat of a tax-decrease election," said Thomas E. Bauer, a lawyer once president of the Franz Park Neighborhood Association.
Bauer led a drive to get a new branch library and amassed many letters and other support from residents and religious leaders and political officials. But he and other residents thought by last year that the library board was stonewalling.
That's when they switched tactics. They learned that state law allowed any group of 100 people to petition the city to force an election to undermine the library's tax rate. Then they found more than 100 people to sign such a petition and presented it to the mayor and Board of Aldermen.
"Some may have called it drastic at the time," recalled Alderman Robert Ruggeri, D-24th Ward, "but it got the ear of the library board."
Shortly thereafter, the library board agreed to the new branch so long as Proposition L passed.
McGuire, the deputy director of the library, said last week, "We committed to building this branch as part of the tax campaign, but we'd been interested in it long before that."
Now that the library is going in, Bauer says he is happy. The library will provide a long-needed focal point for the area, neighborhood access to all the holdings of the library system and material for students writing papers, he says.
Still, he said, among neighborhood residents, "the fight to increase library services in Dogtown has been going on so long that no one will believe it's going to happen until it actually happens."
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