Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh opens new Hazelwood branch

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A run-down church building on Second Avenue in Hazelwood has become a gleaming glass-and-brick library and a symbol of hope for a neighborhood still clawing its way back from the demise of the steel industry.

City officials, community activists and residents gathered in the rain Saturday to cut the ribbon on the new Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh location. With an additional 3,500 square feet, it‘‍s about double the size of the previous location above a nearby laundromat and deli.

“It‘‍s definitely an improvement,” 11-year-old Njuan Fondren said as he worked at a computer.

Mary Frances Cooper, president and director of the Carnegie Library, said the new location is part of a round of capital upgrades across the 19-branch system.

For Hazelwood residents, who have been without a school and other amenities for years, the investment in the heart of the struggling business district fuels hope of a comeback.

"It's a symbol for them of everything their community can be, and that's a role we want to play," Ms. Cooper said.

ACTION-Housing Inc., a Downtown-based nonprofit, purchased and overhauled the building for about $2.4 million with the support of PNC, The Heinz Endowments and the city Urban Redevelopment Authority

Initially a veterans hall and then a church, the building was in poor shape by the time the housing agency purchased it, Linda Metropulos, director of housing and neighborhood development, said. The library has dedicated teen and children’‍s areas, wireless Internet access, an outdoor gathering area and, residents said, more books and other materials.

“I‘‍m in awe,” said Deloris Livsey, chairwoman of the Hazelwood Initiative, a neighborhood development group.

The Early Learning Hub of Hazelwood, an initiative of the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children, and the Greater Hazelwood Family Center, to be operated by Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center, also will have space in the building.

Ms. Cooper said it is fitting that the three tenants, together providing a range of services to neighborhood families, share a building.

City Councilman Corey O'Connor, who represents Hazelwood, said the library is "a key ingredient to building the whole corridor."

Plans to re-open a neighborhood grocery with ACTION-Housing’‍s help are in the works, and redevelopment of a 178-acre mill site, now owned by the Almono partnership, is underway.

Almono‘‍s website says the riverfront property is “poised to re-enter the market, connect with regional economic hubs, share the mile-and-a-half of shoreline with the community and become an instigator of growth renewal, and progress in Pittsburgh.” Jim Richter, Hazelwood Initiative’‍s executive director, said roads and other infrastructure tentatively are planned for the fall.

A charter school will open the fall--the neighborhood‘‍s first school in perhaps a decade. And ACTION-Housing says it has still other projects planned for the neighborhood.

Elpidia Epondulan, who has lived in Hazelwood about 18 years, brought her niece and two nephews to the library opening.

She said Hazelwood’‍s family atmosphere reminds her of her family‘‍s old home in the Philippines. Now, she said, she would like to see the neighborhood grow.

Joe Smydo: or 412-263-1548. First Published June 21, 2014 12:00 AM

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