Some Houston Libraries Still Closed 11 Months After Hurricane Harvey

The Houston Public Library's Mobile Express bookmobile stopped several times at Eastwood Park in the city's East End.

The Houston Chronicle reports kids from the park's day camp clambered aboard, each piling up a small stack of slim volumes, from "Pete the Cat" to "Amelia Bedelia Cleans Up."

This red van, which holds just a few hundred kids' books, is the neighborhood's library lifeline now. The Second Ward's public library closed 11 months ago during Hurricane Harvey and hasn't reopened.

"We have some kids come in and they're like, `Our library is closed, so we haven't been to the library in a while,"' said Rachel Stout, a trainer with HPL's community engagement team. "So they're happy to see us."

Harvey made landfall in South Texas last Aug. 25. When Harvey's rain then flooded Houston, dirty water sloshed inside several branches of the Houston Public Library.

At neighborhood libraries all over town, floodwater wrecked books and equipment, carpet and furniture. When it receded, it left behind wet walls, ruined floors, mold and at least one damaged foundation.

Six of the library's flooded branches are still closed. In fact, at most locations, repair work hasn't even begun.

"We'll be feeling the effects of Hurricane Harvey for years to come," said Houston City Councilwoman Martha Castex-Tatum, whose district contains two of the closed branches. "And the libraries' closing is just another instance of the impact of that major rain event."

The library system has set up a few temporary mini-branches -- in Kashmere Gardens, Braeswood and Westbury -- where cardholders can go to turn in books and pick up holds they've requested. And of course, the bookmobiles show up at parks, schools, churches and community centers. But the libraries themselves linger, waiting for repair work or rebuilding.

"It's just a cumbersome process with lots of parties involved," said John Middleton, the library system's assistant director in charge of spaces and communications. For the past several months, he said, the city's been waiting for insurance money and Federal Emergency Management Agency checks. Until there's funding, the library system can't begin to repair its damaged buildings.

"We've been going through our existing bond funds trying to see what we can use, what's appropriate," Middleton said.

Even though Houston voters approved a $123 million bond for library improvements in November, that money is earmarked for specific locations and improvements, including roof repairs, renovations and new buildings in Northline and Alief. It can't necessarily be used to fix Harvey damage.

The good news: Two branches should reopen before the end of 2018, Middleton said. But "that's all the real good news," he said.

At least one neighborhood library will be closed until late 2019, he said. Another handful remain in limbo, with no reopening date in sight.

The Houston City Council agreed Wednesday to buy 2.5 acres of land in Westbury, aiming to build a new library to serve the southwestern section of the city, where a 56-year-old local branch was shuttered during Harvey and will not reopen.

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