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Harlem Performing Arts School Gets New Library After Years of Struggle

By Jeff Mays | May 23, 2014 5:19pm
 Wadleigh's library received a new $1.1 million renovation.
Wadleigh, Harlem's Performing Arts School, Gets New Library
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HARLEM —  When Tyshaun Brown, a 14-year-old ninth-grader at Wadleigh Secondary School for the Performing Arts, first visited the school's library, he had no idea he was actually in the library.

He was there to meet a teacher to discuss some family problems and noticed ancient Dell computers, dim overhead lighting and old books.

After that meeting, long-time school librarian Paul McIntosh encouraged Brown to write poetry to help process his feelings.

"I left saying this man doesn't know what he's talking about but a few weeks later I felt I needed to go back and talk to him again," said Brown, who cites his spoken word poetry with keeping him out of trouble.

Brown spoke as he was helping McIntosh load new books onto the shelves at the third floor library which just received a $1.1 million gut renovation. A rededication ceremony was held Friday afternoon, attended by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Wadleigh alumni.

The antiquated computers have been replaced with Mac desktops and laptops. The checkout system is now computerized and the light green walls glow from the new overhead lighting.

"When I came here a couple of years ago they had 24 computers, most of which were broken," said Wadleigh principal Tyee Chin. "Now, it's a beautiful space."

New books are coming based on a $10,000 grant and the room has been reconfigured so McIntosh can continue to bring in guest speakers. He also wants to create an annual literary anthology featuring student work.

"The way the library looked before, the message was you are not valued," said McIntosh, who has taught at the school at 114th Street between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and Frederick Douglass Boulevard for more than 15 years.

"What we were able to do here previously was in spite of the appearance," said McIntosh who used the old run down space to host everyone from Amiri Baraka, Cornell West and a host of city officials.

The makeover is remarkable because McIntosh pushed for 13 years to secure DOE funding for the renovation.

"I was always told they are going to put it in the budget but the something bigger would come up," he said. "People just didn't consider this a priority."

And, just over two years ago, Wadleigh's middle school was in danger of being shut down by the DOE.

At the same time, a proposal to move middle school grades of the Harlem Success Academy charter school into the building left many fearful the entire school would eventually be pushed out.

From the library, which also serves kids at the co-located Frederick Douglass Academy, McIntosh helped lead a massive effort to keep the school open, one of the few designated to close that escaped that fate during the Bloomberg era.

"Opening this new library is like staking a claim and saying we will continue to be here," said Betty Davis, 74, a retired information technology specialist who volunteers at the library. "We aren't going anywhere."

Even with the renovated library, Davis said McIntosh is the main draw.

"He gives his heart and soul to the kids in this building," she said. "He fought to get this library because he believes the kids deserve something nice."

McIntosh, who was named one of the top 10 librarians in the country in 2008, refuses to take credit.

"It's not about me," he said. "Libraries have to be alive. It's more than a depository for books, especially when you are dealing with young people that may feel marginalized."