NEW ORLEANS, La. -- Nearly four years after Katrina, the Robert E. Smith Branch of the New Orleans Public Library on Canal Boulevard has remained damaged and closed. In its place, a library bookmobile, followed by a modular library, have continued to service the community and children of the Lakeview area.
Now, according to an announcement by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA), local residents can expect a brand new Robert E. Smith Library in their neighborhood to replace the old facility and the current modular library.
This news follows a joint meeting with FEMA and the city, where the city identified the Robert E. Smith Library as one of its priority projects. This priority determination led to a joint re-evaluation of the library, which resulted in the facility's current status as a replacement project instead of a repair. Supporting this decision, FEMA has recently provided additional public assistance funding to the city of New Orleans for the replacement of the library.
"Neighborhoods throughout our city have advocated for their libraries. It is wonderful to return this public resource. In rebuilding libraries, we invest in our community, our local economy, and our people," said New Orleans Public Library Chief Operating Officer Rica Trigs.
During Hurricane Katrina, the library was inundated with flood water, which remained after the storm's landfall and greatly damaged the interior elements of the library - its flooring, walls, doors and mechanical and electrical systems. Per FEMA's 50 percent rule, because the costs to repair the library were estimated to be at 54 percent of the costs necessary to replace the facility, the damages were beyond repair and the project was deemed a replacement.
"Undoubtedly, this new library will greatly benefit the city of New Orleans and be an asset to all residents - both young and old - who live in the Lakeview area," said FEMA's Louisiana Transitional Recovery Office Acting Director Tony Russell. "As Andrew Carnegie so fittingly said, ‘There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the Free Public Library,' and for this reason among many, FEMA is happy to support the rebuilding of the Robert E. Smith Library on Canal Boulevard."
FEMA's recent grant of $1.6 million was provided to the city of New Orleans to cover the extra costs necessary to demolish the Katrina-damaged structure and replace it with a new facility. This recent grant brings the federal agency's overall funding to date to $1.9 million for the restoration of the Robert E. Smith Library and its lost contents, including books and furniture.
Louisiana Recovery Authority Executive Director Paul Rainwater said, "Our federal, state and local partners came together and worked hard to prioritize the rebuilding of the Robert E. Smith Library. This new library will serve as a community center where friends and neighbors can reconnect and exchange recovery information. Libraries not only provide access to much-needed information about successful rebuilding practices, they also give residents an opportunity to participate in neighborhood activities."
When FEMA approves projects through its supplemental Public Assistance grant, the funds are transferred to a federal Smartlink account. Once the funds have reached this account, the applicant can request reimbursement from the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) for eligible work completed. Obligated funds may change over time as the project worksheet is a living grant that is often adjusted as bids come in and scope of work is aligned.
The Public Assistance program works with state and local officials to fund recovery measures and the rebuilding of government and certain private nonprofit organizations' buildings, as well as roads, bridges and water and sewer plant...