The last escalator in the Birmingham Public Library’s central branch stopped working in December 2014.
A year later, the escalator has been roped off to prevent injuries to the public, prompting complaints, for example from library patron Michael Gray. “As a customer, as someone who is in here a lot, I just want to know what they are going to do about them,” Gray said.
While city officials have been focused on bringing new and exciting projects downtown, they seemed to have forgotten to maintain the existing structures, according to Gray.
“They have this big, beautiful building that everyone is really proud of — you would think they would take out the escalators and put in stairs or something,” Gray said, adding that he has emailed city officials about the ongoing maintenance problems.
The answer to the question of whether the escalators will be fixed may be “no.” The reason is that currently the BPL is conducting a feasibility study to fully renovate both of the library buildings on Richard Arrington Jr. Boulevard; one built in 1927, the other in 1984.
In 2014, the city approved using $460,000 to fund the feasibility study for the library renovations. Angela Hall, director of the Birmingham Public Library, said the renovations are part of an effort to reconfigure the library for 21st-century demands.
“We’ve been looking into this renovation for about three or four years,” Hall said, adding that BPL has been working with two architectural firms.
As for the escalators, Hall said that the parts needed for the repairs are no longer available. “We would have to completely replace them at this point,” Hall said. “We put the escalators on hold because that is a really big ticket item… Before we do that and put that kind of money into it, we wanted to see what the possibilities would be for the renovation.”
In 2010, the library experienced a 48 percent budget cut in their collection funding. The library went from $1.4 million in funding for books and library materials to $786,000.
“That’s only about 5 percent of our overall budget,” Hall said. “Typically, according to our American Library Standards, a library should be spending about 12 percent of its annual budget on collections.”
Hall anticipates the feasibility study to continue for several months. “We still have a lot of interviews and work to be done,” Hall said. Until then, the escalators will remain roped off to avoid any potential injuries.