Water broke through the leaky roof of the century-old Paschalville branch library in Southwest Philadelphia last month, soaking the new Health section. Some books were rescued before chunks of plaster rained down.

Then there's the nearby Philosophy and Religion collection. A plastic tarp with thick blue tape covers part of it, the casualty of another leak.

"Because we've run out of space to shift the books, sometimes we just put the plastic up," says Jennifer Walker, Paschalville's water-weary head librarian.

Multiply that scene by 50 and you get an idea of the condition of many Philadelphia branch libraries.

Mayor Kenney's ambitions $600 million "Rebuild" plan is aimed at fixing up many of those aging libraries and repairing run-down recreation centers.

The six-year initiative also calls for reorganizing space in some library buildings and creating new space in others.

The proposed makeover involves adding pre-kindergarten classrooms in some library branches as part of another major Kenney initiative: His goal of adding 10,000 "quality" Pre-K slots for 3- and 4-year-olds by 2020.

But first he needs to secure the money.

Managing Director Mike DiBerardinis, who came up with the Rebuild plan, estimates $300 million can be borrowed via bond sales; $100 million to $150 million can come from philanthropic foundations, plus "tens of millions" in state and federal grants. The administration also has $50 million in capital funds it expects to devote to the project.

The last mayor, Michael Nutter, learned the hard way just how much libraries matter to neighborhoods. Facing a massive recession-driven deficit in 2008, he proposed closing 11 branches - but was turned back by courts amid community outcry over what he later called his "absolute worst decision" in office.

Old libraries, new uses

Some patterns of library use have changed over the years. Some haven't.

"I traveled by coming here and reading," Raymond Grady, 72, said as he read a newspaper at the Charles L. Durham branch in West Philadelphia's Mantua section. "This library was a lifesaver."

Grady, a retired corrections officer who visits the branch almost daily, says he's seen a decline in the number of children there since his son, now grown, came to read after school.

According to library statistics, about 5.9 million people visited the city's libraries in 2015, down from 6.4 million in 2009. Siobhan Reardon, the libraries' CEO, said those figures are offset by rising numbers of users of the library's website - and the lines of people using computers at the branches.

Library log-ins are up from 1 million in 2009 to 1.3 million last year, thanks to people like Cathy Guervil and Devota Brown, who don't own computers and go to the Paschalville branch to type resumes and apply for jobs.

"Not everybody has a computer at home," said Guervil, 34, an unemployed health aide who was using a library computer last week to look for temporary work. Brown was using a nearby computer to apply for a school crossing-guard post and other civil service jobs.

Paschalville, like many other branches, has seen a rise in two other computer uses: to seek naturalization help, and to sign up for classes in English as a second language. Some of the neighborhood's newest residents hail from as far away as Liberia, Ghana, and Nigeria.

As public schools have cut back on after-school programs, libraries have filled the void with play time and other activities. The Rebuild plan is looking for ways to revamp branches so that each can better serve its neighborhood, Reardon said.

She sees the initiative as roughly two big steps - "let's fix the problems in the building," and then identify "transformative" steps tailored to that neighborhood's needs.

The city's neighborhood libraries last received new paint, lights, and computers two decades ago. Since then, the system - which includes the main library at 19th and Vine, the library for the blind and physically handicapped, and 52 regional and neighborhood branches - has not received enough capital funding to maintain its buildings, Reardon said.

Eight libraries stayed closed last summer because air conditioning didn't work. Roof leaks have been temporarily patched. "So little has been done for so long," Sandra Horrock, library vice president of external affairs.

The libraries' budget, now $68.7 million, is $7 million below its pre-recession figure, Reardon said.

The average cost of a facelift for just one branch? Reardon's estimate is $6.5 million.

The total Rebuild allocation for libraries has not yet been determined. DiBerardinis expects that within the next six weeks, the administration will determine how many sites will be "addressed" with Rebuild money, assuming the funding comes through.

Every branch manager has a wish list. Debra E. Johnson, who runs the Durham branch in Mantua, just wants the heating and cooling fixed and the leaks to stop. Dreaming big, she envisions interactive "smart boards" and state of-the-art computers.

Hers is one of the smaller branches, but she has made the most of it. She uses the community room, which is shared with the Mantua Recreation Center, for "story time," when she reads to toddlers from nearby day cares.

As part of the Rebuild plan, some libraries' community rooms could be partly closed off to create Pre-K classrooms or offer other services tailored to the neighborhood.

"It's a good time to reimagine that space," Walker said of the long, white community room in the basement of the Paschalville branch.

A catch, though: Paschalville's ground floor is not handicap-accessible. That means spending more Rebuild dollars.

And those dollars depend on ifs: If the $600 million comes through from bonds, federal and state money, and philanthropic gifts. If Kenney's soda tax is enacted - since part of it is meant to pay back some of the bonds.

The libraries' chief has her fingers crossed. "If this comes to a pass," Reardon said, "it will be utterly remarkable."

cvargas@phillynews.com

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@InqCVargas