The Wissahickon Valley Chronicles:
Ambler Branch Library
Proposed Renovation and Expansion
Part Two

January 29, 2018

Ambler Public Library - Proposed Layout.JPG

The Wissahickon Valley Public Library has developed a document to make its case for the public to support the renovation and expansion of the Ambler Branch Library.  The image above shows the proposed floor plan for the library.  We publish this document to encourage the members of the public to thoughtfully consider these plans.


Ambler Branch Renovation
Case for Support


I. Our Goal:  Accessible Libraries for All

II. Ambler Branch Renovation Introduction

The Wissahickon Valley Public Library (WVPL) seeks to renovate the Ambler Branch to allow everyone equal access to its resources.  A redesign of its spaces and a new addition, including a ramp and accessible bathrooms will eliminate barriers to free lifelong learning for all residents.  As it stands today, the Ambler Branch does not adequately provide the physical access for patrons with canes, walkers or wheelchairs, nor for parents with young children in strollers.  Entrance and navigating the library for these patrons is difficult or impossible.

A renovation of the Ambler Branch can also provide the space necessary to expand and enhance educational opportunities. Currently there is no designated meeting space for community groups or for students to quietly study.  In order for staff to provide educational programs, they must reconfigure the only space available by moving a sofa, 2 lounge chairs and 2 tables to make room for setting up chairs. This not only limits the number of classes that can be provided, it also limits the use of the library by patrons not involved in the program.  

When the renovation is completed, students will have space to study, adults will have a meeting place, and patrons will have a place to read even when there are programs in the library. Adults will have more opportunities to learn and to socialize with neighbors. Children will be able to participate in additional educational activities designed to reduce the Entrance Gap.  The Entrance Gap is defined as the disparity in kindergarten readiness among different demographic groups. The gap indicates that children from certain demographic groups are, on average, behind in school readiness. WVPL can help prepare these students for success in school and for success in life.

III.  The Plan

The library plans to add 2,458 square feet of additional space, including a large meeting/presentation space (capacity 80 people) for educational programming, 2 small meetings spaces (8 people per room) for studying and community group meetings, 2 accessible bathrooms, a new lobby and vestibule with space for parking strollers, an expanded children's collection area , and a ramp.

The plan adds to two sides of the building, the front and the west side.  The front addition would be the large meeting room.  The entrance would be moved west, beyond the children's room addition and a ramp would be added to create an accessible path from the street.  To the rear of the lobby would be the two small meeting spaces with a moveable partition to add more flexibility to the space. The existing building would be reconfigured to serve as the collection area, with informal seating areas for quiet reading.

An area for computer terminals would be adjacent to the new circulation desk and lobby. New accessible bathrooms will also be added.

Construction would start in the spring of 2019. Once the construction is finished, the library will start planning more educational programming and advertise the community meeting spaces.  

IV. Organization background

WVPL is optimally placed to provide these educational programs because we are an integral part of the community fabric, an institution that has thrived for nearly a century. The library works in diligent association with the Wissahickon School District to not only provide early literacy education, but to communicate the message of the importance of reading in a young child's life.  According to recent studies, the best predictor of whether a person remains free or ends up in prison; how much education a person receives; how much they earn over their lifetime; and even how healthy the person is as a child or how long they might live are their 4th grade reading scores. And what is the best predictor of 4th grade reading scores? Reading readiness at age 5. The library is the one organization in the community that provides free books, computer access and early literacy programs for children and their families.  In 2016 alone, the library presented 123 programs for children at which 3,288 attended.  

The Ambler Branch is walkable, bikable, and served by public transit. It serves an ethnically and economically diverse population through an after-school homework help program for ESL students, even though we don’t have enough space for all the children. The Ambler Branch also provides two adult ESL conversation groups to serve this community, and both sessions are at maximum capacity. Room capacity for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) programs is limited and hinders the ability to serve students in this community.  As previously mentioned, the current building is not accessible for strollers, walkers and wheels chairs and this limits use of the library.  We currently have a mother with a walker who has to struggle to get up the steps to participate in children's activities with her family. With more space and better access, we can help many more children succeed.

WVPL also works with the local non-profits like the movie theater, playhouse, and co-op to provide adult educational programs, socializing, and performances.  Last year the library presented 125 adult programs at which 1,031 attended. With increased space we can help many more adults improve their education, develop their job skills, and enhance their personal lives.  

A renovated library with a ramp, accessible bathrooms, a new programming space and study rooms, will truly be accessible for all.

V. Urgency

The time to renovate is now. The lack of accessibility and the lack of space to provide more educational programs has caused a decline in circulation of books at the Ambler Branch. This reduced circulation signifies that the library's value as a resource center for the community is threatened. But we know that there is a growing need in our community for more adult education and access to technology and computers. Because our local schools are trying to close the learning gap between students of different ethnic groups, there is also greater demand for robust early literacy programs and afterschool programs. In very real terms, the library needs to become accessible to avoid a lawsuit or large insurance claim. The library has already had an elderly woman fall on the steps and break her hip.  

Locally, the renovation plan has the support of Ambler Borough, who has agreed to help with grants.  The Wissahickon School District recently gave the library an additional $25,000 a year which the library plans to use to pay back the renovation loan. The Ambler Savings Bank wants to help with a low interest loan and increased donations to help pay off the renovation loan.  

The library plans to gather community support for the project and begin to create the fundraising plan in the fall of 2017.  The grants will be written in the spring of 2018. Construction would start in the spring of 2019.  

VI. Financial Plan

The library needs to raise $1,734,591 dollars to complete the renovation.

                                2458 sq ft x $350 per sq foot                                       $  860,300

                                Site work                                                                         146,251

                                Interior renovations-existing building                               75,000

                                Design contingency 10%                                                108,155

                                Project soft costs - 25% (design & engineering fees,        297,427
                                survey, furniture, permits legal, insurance)

                                Construction contingency 10%                                       118,971

                                Escalation 2 years 4% per year                                        128,488

                                                             Total                                             $1,734,591

The project would start with writing a Keystone grant in March of 2018 for $500,000. A Community Development Block grant will also be written for $100,000. The library plans to fundraise $300,000 and to borrow the remainder, $834,591 from the Ambler Savings Bank. Construction would begin in the spring of 2019.    

This project matters because the residents of Ambler deserve an accessible library.  

Libraries help people learn how to use online resources and current technology to improve their education, to develop their job skills and to enhance their personal lives. Libraries play an important role in helping residents manage their own and their family’s well-being, and empower them to live longer, more productive lives. And lastly, libraries help prepare children to enter school and to continue to achieve.  All residents of Ambler deserve access to these opportunities.  

If you agree, we need your help to gain the support of our entire community.  WVPL will need grant funding to finance this project through completion.  If you can help with ideas for grant sources, assist with grant writing, write a letter of support, or contact a legislator, it would greatly be appreciated.

WVPL will also be starting a capital campaign to finance this project.  If you have suggestions for campaign donors, or want to become one, please inform us. Together we can make the Ambler Branch Library accessible for all.



The image is provided courtesy of the Wissahickon Valley Public Library.

The Ambler Branch Renovation - Case for Support is quoted from a document provided by the Wissahickon Valley Public Library.


Do you have questions about local history?  A street name?  A building?

Your questions may be used in a future news article.

Contact Richard McDonough at


© 2018 Richard McDonough