Vikki Martin of Ferguson Road Initiative, left, and White Rock Hills library branch manager Sandra King, right, sit in the new library. It took about 10 years and $8 million to build. Photo by Danny Fulgencio

The city’s newest library serves one of our most downtrodden neighborhoods

Jasmine Sellers curls her legs beneath her in a big white chair at White Rock Hills Branch Library and opens the “Goosebumps” book she’s reading. Maybe it’s not the most challenging material, but the 11-year-old Gaston Middle School student is putting her gray matter to work this summer instead of letting her brain turn to mush.

Sellers’s mom, Joanne, says keeping her kids interested in reading and academics is easier now that there’s a library so close to home. And it’s a really nice one, too.

The $8 million White Rock Hills Branch Library opened last month, more than 10 years after it was first envisioned. The Ferguson Road Initiative pushed for the library, paid for with 2003 and 2006 city bond money, to serve what the initiative’s Vikki Martin calls “forgotten far East Dallas.”

That is the area east of the mansions of Forest Hills, and west of Interstate 30. In this neighborhood, poverty, violence, drug abuse and prostitution are common. Most residents live in the neighborhood’s 60 apartment complexes, and 13 percent live below the poverty level.

A grand opening celebration for the White Rock Hills Branch Library included a parade with neighborhood residents. Photo by Amber Plumley

At Lang Middle School, less than two miles from the library, students are learning half a block away from an apartment complex whose owner has described it as “a shooting gallery,” Martin says. Half a mile from the school is Tiger Cabaret and its neighbor, the Lamplighter Motel.

“How can you expect success with an environment like that?” Martin asks.

Martin’s goal, since founding the Ferguson Road Initiative in 1991, has been to improve the neighborhood for families and children. There have been many successes, including improvements at Bayles Elementary School and St. Francis Park. The new library is a gleaming example of how neighbors can pull together to gain amenities for their neighborhood.

Becki Bacski recently retired after 17 years as librarian at Bayles. She says the library serves that school, as well as Truett Elementary and the academically unacceptable Conner and Kiest elementary schools.

“It’s a marvelous institution, of course. It’s so close to all of those schools,” she says. “All of those students, especially in the summertime, can have access to all of the programs and books and be able to go and get on the computers.”

Libraries are not just for books anymore. White Rock Hills offers computer stations, DVD rentals and a community meeting room, among other amenities.

Claremont neighborhood resident Veronica Bailey’s 12-year-old daughter is “an avid reader,” she says, and the new library is within walking distance of their house.

“The library means so much because it will give people more to do,” she says. “It’s somewhere to go, and it doesn’t cost anything. Maybe it will help parents with their teenagers.”

Vicki Martin’s dream is that one day, a brand new recreation center will open in her neighborhood. “It’s going to happen,” she says. “If it kills me, it’s going to happen.”

Even though the city purchased land for the new rec center on Ferguson years ago, it is many millions of dollars away from becoming reality. But Martin sees the library as proof that it can and will happen.

“And it’s beautiful,” Bailey says of the library. “Oh, my gosh, it’s so beautiful.”

White Rock Hills Branch Library, 9150 Ferguson, is open noon-8 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. It is closed Sunday and Monday.

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