“I want to talk about the metamorphosis that happened here,” he began.
A decade ago, before M.S. 223 opened, the previous school’s crumbling library reflected the chaos around it, Gonzalez said.
The library had gone a half-century without renovations. Its few shelves were slanted and bare.
Staff ducked into the library to avoid the unruly hallways, while students were sent there as punishment.
When M.S. 223 took over in 2003, space was limited, so the library became a classroom.
But as the innovative new district school took off, literacy became a priority and Gonzalez realized students could not go without a functional, fully stocked library.
So he asked elected officials and benefactors to fund an overhaul of the ramshackle reading room.
Last Wednesday, after nearly $1 million and two years of construction, Gonzalez finally unveiled the new library — a bright-walled sanctuary with cushy chairs, touch-screen computers, stacks of e-readers and, of course, shelves buckling with books.
“It’s perfect,” said seventh-grader Ivana Montano, who admitted to peeking into the space while it was being built.
“I immediately knew this was the place I had been craving for,” said Ivana, 12.
The Bronx Borough President’s office allocated about $750,000 to renovate the library space, which will be shared by M.S. 223 and South Bronx Preparatory, another school in the building at E. 145 Street and Third Avenue.
Another $150,000 for furniture, bookcases, electronics and books came from the William and Dewey Edelman Charitable Trust, for whom the library was named.
“You now have a library,” Edelman trustee Kenneth Stein said at the grand opening. “If you prefer, think of it as a gym for your mind.”
The cutting-edge library sports 10 desktop computers with touch-screen monitors, a 70-inch smart TV that will allow videoconferencing with foreign classrooms and 50 Nook e-readers, which permits students who require simpler texts to read in privacy.
Parents will be invited to drop in after school to use the computers to apply for jobs or chat with distant relatives — perhaps with the aid of their children.
“They come out taking their first breath and they know how to text,” said Nicole Lentino, a seventh-grade technology teacher at M.S. 223, which is formally called the Laboratory School of Finance and Technology.
The library, Lentino added, will “connect with what they already know about technology, but show that you can use it for education too.”
It also fills a void that exists beyond the school — a lack of local spots to access books and computers.
The neighborhood’s public libraries can be loud, overcrowded and outdated, students said. As for quiet coffee shops and bookstores in the area — there aren’t any.
“This is our Starbucks,” Ivana, the seventh-grader, said of the new school library. “This is our Barnes & Noble.”
M.S. 223 has managed to transcend the confines of its budget and its building before.
Gonzalez and staffers found donors to renovate the school auditorium and partners to help run a free summer learning program. Its students have visited Google’s headquarters and one of its teachers delivers free books to local bodegas.
But, Gonzalez said, he is especially proud of the library, because it will remain at the school even after he has gone.
“It’s something when you impact a kid to make them read better,” he said. “It’s another when you can leave an institution better.”
Sixth-grader Andy Garcia spent little time considering institutions after Wednesday's ceremony. Instead, he hastily swiped through an e-book about the Titanic.
Before long, he returned the sleek device. Then he settled into a comfy chair and cracked open a thick book.