Experts team up for Julia de Burgos school library reopening

The school library at Julia de Burgos, opened in 2003, was designed to be a special place of learning. Architects Jane Rath and Vincent Rivera took inspiration from the school’s namesake, the famous Puerto Rican poet, and from the country of Puerto Rico itself. The neighborhood of Fairhill has one of the highest concentrations of Puerto Rican immigrants in Philadelphia, and the library and school were designed to mimic busy streets and gathering places.

In 2010, amidst massive budget cuts and austerity measures in the School District of Philadelphia, the library at Julia de Burgos Elementary School was closed. This year Historic Fair Hill volunteer and Board Member Jean Hurd has a gift in memory of her father, Vincent Hurd. Mr. Hurd was a lifelong reader and learner, and the gift will fund the library’s new start.

Reopening the library has been a dream for Julio Núñez, assistant principal. “I’ve wanted to do this every year, to have a vibrant, appealing, center of literacy, and now we have a partner organization to help get it done.”

Teaming up to reopen the library at Julia de Burgos

Volunteer and Board Member Jean Hurd, Professor and Library Organizer Jessica Kahn, Architects Vincent Rivera and Jane Rath, and volunteer Lee Kowalski.

Jessica Kahn, a retired education professor at Chestnut Hill College, has joined the project as the lead library organizer. She has been working throughout the city to reopen and improve libraries for over five years. She will be aided by Peter Warrington, who recently retired from medicine and committed four days a week to the library after seeing the success of a similar project at the Kelly School lead by the Germantown Friends.

Donated books from Kahn’s efforts and from HFH’s collections at regional Friends Meetings are being organized and added to the shelf. This Martin Luther King Day, 20 volunteers worked all day steam-cleaning the rug and putting spine labels on books. School staff brought family members to help.

Rath and Rivera also returned to the library, to help arrange the room. Meeting with Kahn and Hurd, they pulled out the original blueprints and showed how the shelves should be arranged to compliment the dynamic shape of the space. The eighth grade boys moved the shelves into place, and other students have asked to come help during lunch.

“Already students are excited,” says Núñez. “They stop by. They want to come check out books. We have to hurry up to get it ready for them.”

Meredith Hutcheson

Meredith joined the Historic Fair Hill team in late 2015. She's been creating content and media since 2008. Strengthening communities both online and off is her passion.

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