St. Paul Street branch library will close doors tomorrow

September 18, 1997|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

The St. Paul Street branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library will close tomorrow, ending a bitter fight with a community group that had protested its loss all the way to court.

Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan upheld the authority of the Pratt to close its branch in the 2500 block of St. Paul St. on Tuesday, ruling against the Friends of the St. Paul Street Branch.

James C. Welbourne, assistant director of the Pratt, said, "While we were going through these extensive court procedures, we'd already made arrangements [to keep the library open] through this week. There was no reason to shut it down."

Margaret Brent Elementary School in Charles Village will receive some of the branch's books, said library spokeswoman Averil J. Kadis. A bookmobile will be responsible for weekly visits to two other elementary schools in the area, Dallas F. Nicholas and Mildred Monroe. These services will be available by Nov. 1.

Library officials also expressed relief yesterday at the judge's decision.

"The implications [of the suit] are staggering," said Welbourne, describing what would have happened if the judge had decided differently. "Regardless of the budget, the library wouldn't have the ability to close a branch without the approval of any community group."

The Pratt originally had scheduled the closing for Aug. 30, but the Friends succeeded in getting a temporary injunction to keep the branch open. That was lifted by Kaplan on Tuesday.

But Kaplan ruled in favor of the Friends on another matter -- that the library was subject to the state open meetings law, partly because 90 percent of its budget is public money.

Leaders of the Friends group expressed regret over the closing, but took solace in Kaplan's ruling with regard to open meetings.

Judith Hart-McLean, one of the primary combatants in favor of saving the library, said that while she was "deeply saddened over the closing because it affects the community in a tremendous way," she and Welbourne were able to mend fences during a conversation yesterday afternoon.

The library will also be working with other groups in Charles Village, including a group headed by city Democratic Del. Howard "Pete" Rawlings, an alliance Hart-McLean said the Friends might join.

"That's a question for them," Welbourne said, when asked about hopes for any future.

Pub Date: 9/18/97

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