New library for blind, physically handicapped OK'd

December 13, 1990|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- Bad publicity paid off yesterday for Maryland's Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.

Final state approval to build a new library at the southeast corner of Park Avenue and Franklin Street, just west of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, might never have happened if Gov. William Donald Schaefer hadn't seen pictures of the current facility's dilapidated condition.

The project, which could cost as much as $9 million, originated in 1986, shortly after photographs depicting the shabby condition of the present facility were printed in the Braille Monitor, a publication of the National Federation of the Blind, according to the library director, Lance C. Finney.

Soon after those pictures were seen in the State House, Mr. Finney recalled, Governor Schaefer paid a visit to the library in the 1700 block of North Charles Street. He subsequently ordered his staff to help the library initiate a new building program.

Yesterday, Mr. Schaefer and the other two members of the Board of Public Works approved the project, which Mr. Finney said will vastly expand audio, Braille and other resources available to Maryland's blind and physically handicapped.

About 7,000 people use the library, most of them receiving and returning resources through the mail. Another 3,000 people use library materials through collection points in nursing or retirement homes and other institutions.

Construction of the new library could begin as early as spring, with completion tentatively scheduled for December 1992. The state has appropriated $6 million toward the estimated $7.5 HTC million construction cost.

The library will have to return to the General Assembly for the additional $1.5 million needed to equip the facility, he said.

To make way for the new structure, which is designed by the architectural firm of Ayers Saint Gross Inc., two town houses dating from the 1850s and a parking lot will have to be demolished. The seven-tenths of an acre is owned by the city, but will be leased to the state for 50 years at $1 a year.

Once completed, the facility will offer people who are blind or who have severely impaired vision, or those who are too incapacitated to hold a book, a broader collection of resources, including Braille, audio-cassette, audio-disk and large-print books.

An expanded section for blind or physically handicapped children, and a children's services librarian, also will be provided.

Among a number of other improvements will be the installation of audio recording studios, in-house audio duplicating equipment, print-to-Braille equipment, a staff lounge and a multipurpose meeting room.

"The main problem now is there just isn't enough material [available]," said Sharon Maneki of Columbia, president of Maryland's chapter of the National Federation of the Blind.

Although the project received a design award from the American Institute of Architecture, its design remained controversial, as did the plan to demolish the two old town houses. As a result, the proposal ran into some difficulty before it obtained final approval from the city's Architectural Review Board and the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation.

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