The Mt. Pleasant library branch on Academy Avenue in Providence. (Courtesy Providence Community Library)
Updated: Friday, 15 Oct 2010, 4:13 PM EDT
Published : Friday, 15 Oct 2010, 3:46 PM EDT
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) - The City of Providence filed a lawsuit Thursday against the Providence Public Library, escalating a battle over the fate of the city's library branches, Eyewitness News has confirmed.
Responsibility for the nine branches was transferred last year from the nonprofit Providence Public Library (PPL) to a new organization, the Providence Community Library (PCL), after PPL announced plans to close five of them. PPL continues to run the Central Branch on Empire Street while PCL runs the branches separately.
The city is leasing seven of the nine branch buildings from PPL, which still owns them and therefore is required to make repairs "at its sole cost and expense," according to court documents filed in R.I. Superior Court.
The suit alleges that PPL "has failed to comply with the lease and has refused to make the required repairs." It lists more than a dozen problems at the branches, including leaky roofs, poor drainage, electric problems and faulty ventilation.
"PPL has failed to comply with the lease and has refused to make the required repairs," the city's attorney, John McConnell Jr. of the law firm Motley Rice, wrote in the court filing. "In failing to make the required repairs, the PPL has breached its contract with the city." A spokeswoman for Providence Mayor David Cicilline declined to comment.
In a statement, PPL said it was "disappointed" by the city's decision to take the matter to court. "The suit appears intended to harass Providence Public Library, its staff, volunteer trustees, and all of the organization’s committed supporters," it said.
PPL's statement also noted the branch buildings are being leased to the city for just $1 a year and contended that the terms of the leases allow either the city or Providence Community Library to make the necessary repairs. The organization also said all sides were aware of the buildings' deficiencies before the leases were signed.
The legal action comes as PCL has been putting more pressure on PPL to resolve the dispute over the buildings through efforts such as an op-ed in The Providence Journal and public meetings to raise awareness .
"This suit is not for [taking ownership of] the buildings," Marcus Mitchell, president of the board at the new Providence Community Library, told Eyewitness News. "This suit was because PPL is not maintaining the buildings." He said PCL has not been able to apply for grants to pay for the repairs because it does not own the buildings.
Two branches – Fox Point and Washington Park – are not owned by PPL. Negotiations over the transfer of ownership of the other seven branches from PPL to the city have been stalled for months.
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