Chinatown school makes push for a library

By Julie Shapiro

Joanie Terrizzi is a librarian without a library.

Manhattan Academy of Technology Principal Kerry Decker hired Terrizzi last fall even though the pre-K-to-8 school has not had a library in years. Decker hoped that bringing Terrizzi into the school would raise interest in a library and convince the city to fund it — in what Decker calls the “chicken before the egg” approach.

“This is a basic need,” Decker said. “We should have a library. Kids need to have access to great books…. It’s a real shortfall, and it’s something we need to fix.”

So far, despite pressure from the Chinatown school, Community Board 1 and elected officials, the city has not committed to build the library, which parents estimate would cost $485,000.

Will Havemann, spokesperson for the Dept. of Education, said the city would consider M.A.T.’s proposal, but he did not know if the library could be funded and built before next fall.

During this school year, Terrizzi has put together a makeshift library to serve M.A.T.’s 770 students. Terrizzi gathered about 9,000 books, many free or pulled from classroom libraries, and stacked them in an empty classroom on shelves she scavenged from Craigslist. The number of volumes may sound impressive, but Terrizzi said the books are old and falling apart, and they don’t cover the broad range of interests and ages at the school.

“It’s a little motley in here,” Terrizzi said.

Terrizzi envisions a library that is also a media center, with cameras, a class set of computers and a built-in projector. She wants to expand to the library into the room next-door, replacing floor tiles that could contain asbestos and trading out fluorescent lights for something more appealing. She also wants magazine subscriptions and books for M.A.T.’s bilingual students.

“The library is one of the few places kids can access their passions completely independently,” Terrizzi said. “They can gain skills without being graded or judged…and they can use [those] skills right away.”

Terrizzi only opened her temporary library to students several weeks ago, and already some fifth graders are sneaking back whenever they can to take out books, she said.

Terrizzi added that most students know how to use a library because classes from M.A.T., which is on Catherine St., used to travel to the Chatham Square public library branch. But Terrizzi said the school’s staff got nervous after an accident earlier this year where a van jumped the curb near the library and plowed into a line of preschoolers from the Red Apple Child Development Center. Two of the children returning from a trip to the library were killed.

“To have [the library] right here in building is just safer,” Terrizzi said.

Susan Wissman and John Jiler, M.A.T. parents, are among those advocating for a library.

“It feels like there’s a hole where the soul of the school should be,” Jiler told Community Board 1 during a presentation he and Wissman made last month.

The board passed a resolution encouraging the city to fund the library, following Community Board 3, which passed a similar resolution.

“I was blown away by the fact that the school doesn’t have a library,” Board 1 chairperson Julie Menin said after recently visiting the school.

Bob Townley, a C.B. 1 member who directs Manhattan Youth, which opened a new community center last year, thought the library could be built for less than the half a million dollars the parents estimated, but he said everything gets more expensive once the School Construction Authority gets involved.

“Unfortunately, school construction is so expensive in this city that it prevents kids from getting what they need,” Townley said.