Houston, TX, November 05, 2020 – The City of Houston celebrated the long-awaited groundbreaking on the Barbara Bush Literacy Plaza with a virtual ceremony. The construction will transform an expanse of urban concrete into an oasis for literacy and learning.

While the public observed the virtual ceremony, local dignitaries participated in the online event, including City of Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. “Too many years have passed since Mrs. Bush graciously accepted. After floods and hurricanes delayed our progress, my only regret is that she isn’t here to share in this moment.” Mayor Turner added, “Yet, I believe she is and will always be with us through her lasting legacy. Barbara Bush’s name is synonymous with literacy, and the Barbara Bush Literacy Plaza will become a downtown oasis to celebrate literacy, sustaining Houston’s commitment to lifelong learning and influencing positive change for generations.”

Director of the Houston Public Library, Dr. Rhea Brown Lawson, added how library programs empower individuals at every stage of their lives. The Barbara Bush Literacy Plaza will create new opportunities for programs and will celebrate learning and literacy, core components of library programs.

Dr. Julie Baker-Finck, President of the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation, represented the Bush family and shared Neil Bush’s sentiments of this tribute to his mother:

“Mom and Dad loved Houston and called it ‘home’ for more than 50 years. The Barbara Bush Literacy Plaza is yet another way in which Houston has expressed its love back to Mom and Dad, and the entire Bush family is forever grateful.

“For more than three decades up until her passing just a couple of years ago, Mom championed the cause of literacy, advocating for literacy as a fundamental human right and raising tens of millions of dollars to invest in literacy programs to help more adults and children learn how to read, write and comprehend. Mom, fondly called the “First Lady of Literacy”, recognized early on the value of reading. She believed that everyone deserves an equal opportunity to live the American Dream, and that the path to success began with learning how to read. She changed countless lives through her life’s work and my wife, Maria, and I are pleased to carry forth her living legacy through the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation.

“We are pleased to partner with Mayor Turner, the Houston Public Library, and the Houston Public Library Foundation to continue the pursuit of Mom’s vision of literacy for all and making Houston a model for our nation in breaking the generational cycle of low literacy. Houston is blessed to have leaders in our community who value education and literacy and recognize that they are the bedrock for a vibrant and thriving city and a prosperous and successful citizenry.”

The chairperson of the Houston Library Foundation, Mrs. Licia Green-Ellis, led the virtual ceremony and established the imaginative concept of being outside on the Plaza for the groundbreaking ceremony. She thanked the leadership donors for their visionary commitment to Houston, including President George H.W. and Barbara Bush, Phillips 66, The Robert and Janice McNair Foundation, and The Brown Foundation. Mrs. Green-Ellis concluded the virtual event by leading a celebratory “turning of earth” with garden soil and decorative trowel.

Phase I of the renovation concluded in 2018, including the Performance Stage alongside the historic Julia Ideson Building. The final construction phase of the Barbara Bush Literacy Plaza will include new plaza paving, artificial lawn, planters with trees, Adult Reading Area, Children’s Reading Room with shade structure, and fans. New lighting, planters, irrigation, video display, water wall, and new site furnishings. Lauren Griffith Associates completed the architectural designs, and JE Dunn Construction will finish the $5,009,000 construction project in May of 2021.

The recorded event is accessible for public or private use on the Houston Library Foundation’s Facebook page or the Houston Library Foundation’s YouTube channel with acknowledgment to the Houston Public Library Foundation.

Houston Public Library Foundation Board of Directors

Licia A. Green-Ellis


Zarine Boyce
Vice Chairperson


Tina Arias Peterman


Neil Thomas


Rachel Cevallos

Melinda Little

Adan Vega

Alia Vinson

Mary Jane Wakefield

Carme Williams, CFRE


Mayor Sylvester Turner
City of Houston


HISD Superintendent


Rhea Brown Lawson, Ph.D.
HPL Director


Sally Swanson, CFRE
HPL Foundation Director

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