Library gets one-year reprieve Highland branch was to have closed

February 21, 1993|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Staff Writer

The Highland library, which had been scheduled for closing, will remain open at least another year as a result of a compromise accepted by the Harford County Board of Library Trustees.

The compromise, approved Thursday, came after County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann promised to add about $15,000 to the fiscal 1994 budget to finance the tiny branch another year. The money would cover rent and other costs of running the library, which would be staffed by community volunteers.

The compromise was engineered last week by Bruce Berkey, president of the trustees; Jim Richardson, president of the Highland Community Association; and Mrs. Rehrmann.

"It's certainly in the spirit of what we wanted to do," said Mr. Richardson, who added that his only major reservation is the one-year term of the agreement.

"We've spent a lot of time on this issue. I don't relish the thought of going through this process in another year."

The board had planned to close the library this spring as a budget-cutting measure and transfer the two part-time staff members and the collection to the new Whiteford branch, where hours would be expanded. Whiteford, four miles away, opened as a full-service branch last summer for the northern party of the county.

After Highland residents protested the plans to close their branch and a majority of the Harford County Council lined up behind a proposal to eliminate the board's power to close any branch, the board reconsidered. It began

negotiating with the Highland Community Association, which runs Highland Commons, to try to spare the library.

Highland, the smallest of the library system's 10 branches, is open 13 hours a week and has a collection of fewer than 1,000 items. It occupies part of a former school, renamed Highland Commons, that now serves as a community center.

The compromise agreement reduces the library's rent in the historic building from $9,000 to about $5,000. The community association will provide volunteers to run the branch. The part-time library staff there now and about a third of Highland's collection will move to Whiteford.

The library has agreed to train the volunteers and to oversee maintenance of the collection and supplies, Mr. Berkey said. In addition, a computer allowing catalog access will be installed at Highland.

"I think it is a very fair proposal," said Mr. Berkey, adding that the $15,000 infusion from the county budget will cover the costs of running the library with the reduced rent.

Highland Commons, a county-owned building, is leased to the Highland Community Association for $1 a year. The association, in turn, rents space to the library and other tenants. The 85-year-old building also houses a senior center, the Street post office, a nursery school and a food pantry.

"This is a win for the community and a win for the library," said Mrs. Rehrmann, who praised residents for offering to staff the library with volunteers. "That's a real partnership."

But the partnership hasn't come easy.

County Council President Jeffrey Wilson, founder of the Highland Community Association and a key figure in getting the library established in 1985, was also instrumental in fighting the planned closing.

In a Dec. 4 letter to Philip Place, director of the county library system, he warned that he would oppose the branch's closing "in every way I can."

On Feb. 9, Mr. Wilson and three other council members backed a proposal to prevent the trustees from closing any library branch without the council's consent.

That proposal will be the subject of a public hearing March 16.

"The library board has a right to determine the best use of its

assets," said Mrs. Rehrmann, whose role in the compromise appears to be as much mediator as financier.

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