New Chapter for Bel Air library

April 19, 1994

After nearly two years of uncertainty about its future, Bel Air's public library on Hickory Avenue got a double dose of good news recently.

The new Harford County budget proposed by the county executive includes $250,000 for architectural planning and design of a 45,000-square-foot renovation-expansion of the existing building.

That follows a $50,000 budget allocation this fiscal year (which ends June 30) for an architect's feasibility study of extending the overcrowded, overused (if that's possible for a library) structure into the rear parking lot and onto Bel Air's central Shamrock Park.

That's the second piece of welcome tidings: the Town of Bel Air made a commitment to donate a half-acre of parkland for the project to keep the branch in its present location. The decision was a logical, essential follow-up to the town commissioners' resolution last year to fight to keep that branch library where it stands.

So the prospects for selecting one of the three alternative plans presented in the feasibility study, and thus proceeding to construct it, would now seem to be assured, if the County Council approves the proposed design funds in the budget.

Contrast that commitment to the ambivalence in 1992, when the library board planned (without formal final decision) to swap the Bel Air branch to the Board of Education (which was unofficially willing) for a seven-acre parcel of schools land near the Motor Vehicle Administration off Route 24.

Although it would have taken the library out of Harford's county seat, the idea had its attractions: it would presumably have saved money, afforded new quarters for the library administration, avoided the technical difficulties involved in remodeling the 30-year-old branch and provided more badly needed parking space.

Fortunately, strong opposition from town residents and from County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann finally squashed that relocation proposal. The fact that the existing Bel Air property had been given to the county system specifically for a library apparently played little role in the library board's judgments.

Inadequate parking at the expanded facility will still be a concern, although 100 free spaces plus the town parking garage across the street should help somewhat. But most patrons of this most heavily used library branch in Harford County will gratefully welcome the opening of the newest chapter in its history.

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