Library is a victim of economic boom

No space available during renovations

March 19, 2000|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Howard County's surging economy has claimed another victim -- the central library branch in Columbia.

The 19-year-old building will close May 31 for about a year for renovations, and the county could not find enough space to rent for temporary quarters, county officials say.

"We tried our very best to find a place to lease in downtown Columbia, but it just wasn't doable. Seven or eight years ago, no problem," County Executive James N. Robey said.

The economy has improved so much since then that Howard now boasts the highest average family income and the lowest unemployment rates in Maryland.

Several new office buildings are going up in east Columbia and along new Route 100, while space in older buildings is renting quickly at top prices.

The central library, at South Entrance Road and Little Patuxent Parkway near The Mall in Columbia, is heavily used.

In December the library lent 73,883 items and had 35,759 visits from patrons. Children's programs attracted nearly 400 youngsters that month, officials said.

County Public Works Director James M. Irvin said he needed about 10,000 square feet to relocate the library temporarily. He tried for months to find it but could not -- at any price.

Instead, the library's collection of 295,000 books, magazines, tapes, compact discs and videos will be stored in the county-owned former AlliedSignal Building, off Route 108 in east Columbia.

Norma L. Hill, the library director, said the materials will be available during the year, but patrons will have to go to other county branches -- mainly the newer east Columbia branch library -- to request them.

"They're really going to gut the inside of the building," Hill said, so it would have been impossible to operate the library in the building during construction.

It will take weeks to empty the building, Hill said, which is why it must close long before construction work starts in mid-July.

Irvin said bids for the $5.1 million project will be advertised during the next several weeks. The work will include replacement of the ventilation system and windows, and upgraded wiring for computers. "People feel it's dated," Irvin said.

To compensate for the loss, the county will increase hours and staffing at the other branches in east Columbia, Elkridge, Savage and Ellicott City, Hill said, and a new library is to open June 27 in Glenwood, in the western county. She said no employees will be laid off, though she is not filling vacancies.

"Because of the economy, there was no place to go. We need to get this project done," she said.

Robey said the 2 1/2-mile trip across Broken Land Parkway to the east Columbia library won't be a major hardship for patrons. "Let's be honest. I hate to see them lose the space, but it's not really that far," he said.

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