Struggling Library for Blind Selling Gramercy Property for $9M
GRAMERCY — A nonprofit lending library for the blind is selling its Gramercy home for $9 million in the face of financial struggles, officials said.
Xavier Society for the Blind — which has been transcribing Catholic reading materials and textbooks into braille for more than a century, sending them to clients across the country — was recently forced to slash services and downsize its staff because of the rising cost of operations, said Margaret O’Brien, operations manager of the nonprofit.
Now, Xavier is poised to sell its seven-story building at 154 E. 23rd St. to fund its free services.
“We’ve cut back,” O’Brien said. “There have been financial considerations. Some of [the funds] would go to increasing services, but I doubt we’d go back to where we were.”
Xavier has already drawn up a contract to sell the property to a company called Munitalp Corp. for $9 million, according to a petition filed at the Supreme Court of the County of New York on Tuesday.
As a nonprofit, Xavier is required to get approval from the court before it can close the deal, which is expected to happen this fall, O'Brien said.
Munitalp Corp. could not immediately be reached for comment.
In the past year, Xavier has cut its staff from 15 employees to five and eliminated several services, including its audio recording studio and the creation of large-print materials, O'Brien said. The nonprofit has seen a deficit over the past several years with a rise in expenses, while donations have remained constant, according to Xavier's tax documents.
“You don’t need seven floors for five employees,” O’Brien said. “With changes in technology, those who are visually impaired can now use their computers to blow up texts, so that’s an area we didn’t feel like we were needed.
"As far as our current services, they will continue in the new site.”
The organization is currently searching for a new space.
Xavier currently transcribes Catholic print materials into braille and binds them free of charge for about 4,000 regular clients all over the country, as well as some overseas, said Terrence McCafferty, certified braillist and transcription manager at Xavier for the past seven years.
Texts include the New American Bible in 45 volumes, monthly transcriptions of Catholic Mass cards, biographies, religious textbooks and sometimes library books, O’Brien said.
“The textbooks are most important,” McCafferty said. “While everyone else around them is reading their textbooks, there are children in the second grade who have nothing to read because they don’t have a textbook. It can be humiliating for students.”
Generally, the clients contact Xavier and order transcriptions of particular texts, and then a certified braillist transcribes and prints the materials, sending them to an outside proofreader. Then the book is bound on-site and mailed to the clients.
Clients must prove that they are blind or visually impaired through certification from a doctor to be eligible for the free services.
Xavier depends solely on donations to pay its staff, O’Brien said.
The Roman Catholic organization started in 1904 and is governed by a board of directors, which is chaired by a Jesuit priest.
"We’re the only ones in the country to transcribe religious materials for free,” said O’Brien. “We’re very unique.”