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Louisville officials plan to reopen the long-closed Parkland Library

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The city plans to spend roughly $800,000 to expand and reopen the facility, located at 2743 Virginia Ave. When it opens, the library will serve the 5,000 residents of Parkland and folks in the surrounding communities. Lee Burchfield, director of the Louisville Free Public Library system, said Thursday that the project is still in the design phase. He did not provide a timeline for when renovations would be complete.

WFPL’s Roberto Roldan recently sat down with Mayor Greg Fischer to discuss the Parkland Library and how its renovations fit into the larger push to invest in libraries across Jefferson County. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Can you tell me a bit about Parkland Library and why it was important to the city to reopen it?

The Parkland Library closed in 1986 due to budget cuts. It was built in 1908, one of the many Carnegie libraries that you see here, thankfully, in our city and all over the country. So, it was a big priority of ours to try to get that back open. And thanks to the American Rescue Plan funds, we were able to make the announcement, break ground and serve the residents of Parkland. And, of course, anybody else that wants to come.”

There's also a big renovation and expansion project already underway at the Portland Library in west Louisville, which is an area that the city has historically disinvested from. What do you hope that these projects bring back to these communities that surround these public libraries?

Well, I've made it a big priority to invest in areas in the west. Libraries, of course, have got to be part of that investment, because they're the learning centers. The challenge with the Portland Library is it’s not been accessible. So, we're adding a wing so people with disabilities can have access, much easier access to the library. And then we're expanding it as well. 

And it seems like these two renovations that we've talked about are part of a larger investment in libraries across Jefferson County. What other library projects does Louisville Metro have in the works? And how does it fit into the larger picture?

When I was elected, I said there'd be three big values to guide our city: Lifelong learning, health and compassion. So, the very first investment was the Southwest Regional Library, just off of Dixie Highway. Then, of course, we followed with the South Central, Okolona and the Northeast Library. What will be turned into a regional library, in effect, will be the downtown library. We've got over $10 million going into that. Fern Creek also is getting a new library. Unfortunately, we had to close their library when the budgets were real tight several years ago. So kudos to them, gonna have a $5 million project out there. And so all told, it’s about $50 million investment in libraries throughout Louisville during my time in office here, during these past 12 years.

It seems like these libraries are not just necessarily a place to check out books, but it's almost operating sort of as a community center?

Absolutely they are. So, you see people having their individual meetings, you see group meetings, you see us having city meetings as well. We've got maker spaces, we've got kitchens in these, any avenue there is to learn, whether it be through the traditional way of checking out a book — or it could be arts, it could be cooking, it could be maker spaces. All that now is in our library system. And we're just going to continue and expand in that way.

And as you said, the funding for these expansion projects are coming from these one time federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act, which was related to the COVID-19 pandemic. What's the city's plan for ensuring continued investment in public libraries and public spaces?

We really wanted to focus using most of the American Rescue Plan money on capital projects, so they didn't have ongoing, annual expenses associated with them. So you see us upgrading our libraries that we have right now. And I really want to recognize the Library Foundation as well. They are the group that, when we come with a library plan, they'll say, “Here's a few things that we can do to make these world class libraries.” So they will raise millions of dollars in the community for each of these projects to really make them destinations. And when people go to them they're like, “This is as good as anything in the world when it comes to libraries and lifelong learning.” So I really appreciate what they do as well.

Mayor, thank you for taking the time today to talk to us a little bit about our public spaces here in Louisville.

Well, I appreciate it. I'm excited about libraries. My grandmother used to take me to the library with her. So it was always a magical place for me and I love to learn. And so I just am really grateful to be able to use our libraries as a way to bring our city along and bring joy in education, joy and learning to so many people.

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL. Email Roberto at rroldan@lpm.org.

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