The Benning Neighborhood Library has been closed since December 2004, leaving lots of Ward 7 residents wondering when their community will be served by something more than occasional bookmobiles and a tiny kiosk in nearby Deanwood.
At a mid-February meeting of the Ward 7 Leadership Council, they thought they finally had an answer: D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray, attendees say, proposed rebuilding the Benning branch at the District Office of Employment Services (OES) site, currently under construction next to the Minnesota Avenue Metro station.
Whether it was a plan or just a remark, residents and community leaders have seized on his proposal, and Gray seems to have unwittingly stepped into a hornet’s nest.
“The library going there would be a great addition to the community,” says Villareal Johnson, an advisory neighborhood commissioner who was at the meeting. He cites the poor location of the original library as a reason to support the move. “But they need to put a library up as soon as possible because [the OES] project is still two years away.”
Others are not so amenable to the prospects of relocation. “It’s a big no-no,” says Juanita Montague, president of the Friends of Benning Library. “What we really want is our library reopened or rebuilt. We are not interested in relocating.”
Gray did not return several calls for comment. Monica Lewis, a spokesperson for the D.C. Public Library, says, “We are aware of this matter but we have had no formal discussion with Chairman Gray or any other city official.”
“It does seem that this was an off-the-cuff remark,” says Robin Diener, project coordinator for the D.C. Library Renaissance Project, a nonprofit that deals with library issues. “Quite a number of people heard this information and thought it was a plan,” she says.