“My legs are shaking. My voice is probably shaking. I am so excited.” said Mary Sosa, a longtime Capitol Hill civic leader.
She talked with us Thursday as she was walking toward the south side of the redesigned and rebuilt Capitol Hill branch of the Metropolitan Library System for the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“I have been waiting for this for 38 years and it is finally here!”
Sosa wasn’t the only one who expressed surprisingly strong emotions from their own childhood about what access to a public library had meant to them.
The atmosphere was festive as the Capitol Hill High School band played rousing pep tunes typical of what they might play at a football game.
Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett talked about his childhood experiences at the Belle Isle branch close to where he grew up.
“The opportunity to go to the Belle Isle Library was like the biggest thing in my life,” he said.
Oklahoma County Commissioner Brian Maughan, native of the south side, told of his earliest memories connected with the old Capitol Hill library on that same site.
“This is where I was brought at 2 years old to start learning how to read from my baby sitter,” he said.
After the ceremony he told Free Press that his baby sitter would take him to the library and read to him teaching him how to read in the process.
“We would get the maximum they would allow us,” said Maughan. “I wore here out by making her read them over and over to me when she took me back home.”
Oklahoma City Ward 4 Councilman Todd Stone jokingly said he had “a library problem” like some of the others who spoke.
Stone is a newcomer to the council having been elected in April.
He was careful to give credit to his predecessor, Capitol Hill native Pete White, who worked openly and behind the scenes to get resources lined up to rebuild the branch before his retirement from the council.
“It’s a fulfillment of a plan,” White told Free Press after the ceremony. “Ten years ago some of us decided this had to be a part of the next bond issue and we made it happen. It’s worth it today.”
Mary Sosa fought to keep her composure when it was her turn to speak.
With her voice trembling she told the crowd about how her children had grown up in the library and how she had waited “for 38 years for this day to happen.”
Sosa also thanked the staff at the branch for their exceptional work with the children of the neighborhood.
“You are awesome. Without you all our children in this neighborhood would not be able to be doing as well as they are at this point in time,” she said.
“Staff, thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Capitol Hill branch is just the next block over from Capitol Hill Elementary. Children flood into the library every day after school and continue to come during the summer months.
Rep. Forrest Bennett’s Oklahoma House District 92 includes the Capitol Hill Library.
He talked about the difference that libraries can make in a young person’s life by using his own family as an illustration.
Bennett told about the difference a library had made in his own life as he explored new worlds through books and the difference that made in his own life contrasted with his brother.
“Partially because of one book and partially because of a library and access to one, I chose a different direction than my older brother, which is hard to do,” Bennett said.
Nancy Anthony is the Chair of the MLS Commission and gave credit to the Oklahoma City voters for the bond money used to rebuild the branch.
“The library system is operated with property tax money which is great for operating things. But we can’t have buildings like this unless the cities build them and have bond issues,” said Anthony.
The project involved tearing the old building down to its structural bones and then doubling its size as all new plumbing, electrical and internet infrastructures were added. Essentially it is a new building on the same site.
Here are some of the key facts about the new branch:
- 9,400,000 sq ft
- increases public space to nearly 17,000 sq ft
- four study rooms
- space specifically for teens
- much larger children’s area
- large meeting room that people in the community can reserve – seats 250 – can be divided into two smaller rooms
- state of the art tech
- double the number of computers
A flood of children and parents came into the new library as soon as the ceremony was over.
Latonya Nelson couldn’t wait to bring her two daughters, Corianna and Precious, into the new library and start using it.
“We live just down the street and I’m so glad to have this open again. We love the library,” said Nelson.
Within the first couple of minutes 7-year-old Corianna had a couple of books she was clutching tightly. The Capitol Hill Elementary student said she was looking forward to having the library so close to school.