Enoch Pratt Free Library officials presented more details of an ambitious modernization plan called the "facilities and services initiative" at a sparsely attended public forum last night at Messiah Lutheran Church in Canton.
The main features of the 10-year plan are the construction of four "mini-central" libraries and renovation of most of the 26 branches, all at an estimated cost of $45 million, officials said.
"This city is overdue for new [library] construction," said Carla D. Hayden, director of the Pratt. "It's overdue for regional libraries, change and renewal. And every decade is different in library design."
Hayden noted that 26 years have passed since a library was built in Baltimore.
To help finance the plan, voters would be asked to approve a 1998 ballot question authorizing a $9 million to $10 million bond issue, said Gordon Krabbe, the Pratt's director of administrative services. That money would finance the first building phase.
James C. Welbourne, the assistant director, said that the four regional libraries might share space and costs with cultural institutions or commercial enterprises.
Under the plan, he said, a small number of the 26 Pratt branches -- perhaps three or four -- would probably close because of old age and small size. Such was the case for recent closings of the St. Paul Street and Morrell Park branches.
The plan calls for branches to contain at least 6,000 square feet.
"There will be creative reuse of any branches not able to make it into the 21st century," said Hayden. Suggested uses for closed libraries range from community learning centers to bookstore cafes.
Another component of the plan, said Welbourne, is expanded "outside the walls" services, meaning that the Pratt would set up more links with city facilities such as Police Athletic League centers.
As the "facilities and services" plan is under way, officials said, a separate renovation of the central branch downtown and construction of an annex would take place, at a cost of another $45 million.
Antonia Keane, vice president of the library board of trustees, referred to the Pratt as a "cheap date" in arguing that the money would be well-spent.
The Pratt's future was discussed last night a short distance from its oldest branch, the 111-year-old Canton branch. It was the second of six forums to be held throughout the city. The next is set for 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday at Northwestern High School, 6900 Park Heights Ave.
Pub Date: 10/28/97