Roland Park residents aim to save library Most at meeting support doubling building's size

October 16, 1998|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Fearful of losing their library the way Charles Village did last year, about 170 Roland Park residents -- parents with babies, elderly people and some highly paid professionals -- crowded into a church basement Wednesday to vote on how best to keep the library building open.

After two hours of discussion, about 70 percent of those who voted expressed support for doubling the size of the gray stone two-story building to 8,000 square feet. Opened in 1924, it is in the heart of their neighborhood, in the 5100 block of Roland Ave. Enoch Pratt Free Library officials, who were not available for comment yesterday, have not said the library is doomed, but the Roland Park Civic League has taken pains to avoid the same fate as the Charles Village and Morrell Park branches, which were abruptly closed last year.

Closing the small branch on the 2500 block of St. Paul St. went against the will of many Charles Villagers. Among the reasons given by library director Carla D. Hayden -- in the face of street protests and a lawsuit against the city -- was that the century-old brick building was too tiny and obsolete by 21st-century standards.

Other factors noted by Pratt officials were a budget shortfall of nearly $1 million, low circulation, and the fact that the St. Paul Street library was 10 blocks from a newer, larger branch in Waverly.

When Baltimore Circuit Administrative Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan ruled in the library's favor last fall, Hayden declared, "It's not a happy day, but the people of the city can feel confident about the library management team."

Since then, community activists have mobilized to use the St. Paul Street building as a nonprofit learning center for area children and adults. It is expected to open next year.

In tone and dialogue, Wednesday's discussion resembled a New England town meeting -- except for the absence of raised voices.

But one man drew cheers from the gathering. "You have major support from non-Roland Park parents," said Ed Freeman, a nurse whose two children attend the Roland Park public school within walking distance of the library. Freeman, 51, lives in Park Heights.

One woman expressed fear that enlarging the library would result in a loss of intimacy. "I want it to stay a community and a manageable size," said Francis Turner, a 36-year-old mother.

Susan Newhouse, chairwoman of the league's library committee, described the winning option as "between B and C," which called for expansion to either 6,000 or 10,000 square feet. Doubling the building's size received 96 votes.

Louise Senft, a lawyer specializing in mediation, said the meeting arrived at a "new way of looking at something in a place where all voices can be heard."

Pub Date: 10/16/98

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