Spending OK expected for library annex

Project to be first addition to Pratt facility downtown

`We're real happy'

Building will house African-American, Maryland collections

January 23, 2002|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

The state Board of Public Works is expected to approve today spending $10.6 million to build a long-planned annex to the central Enoch Pratt Free Library in downtown Baltimore.

The annex in the 100 block of W. Franklin St., which is expected to be completed in 2004, would connect with the main building and house the Maryland and the African-American library collections, library and state officials said yesterday.

"It's an exciting phase in the library's life, because we've had this need for a long time," said Gordon E. Krabbe, the library's director of administrative services. "We're real happy about it coming to fruition."

The project would mark the first time since it opened during the Depression that Baltimore's central library would expand its borders on the block bounded by Cathedral, Franklin and Mulberry streets and Park Avenue.

Groundbreaking for the 51,000-square-foot building is expected to occur in the spring, Krabbe said. He indicated this would be the first phase of a $48.5 million expansion and renovation of the aging main library, all of which would take until 2007 or 2008 to complete.

Today's meeting in Annapolis represents a triumph for Pratt officials, who remembered meetings on an addition going back at least a decade. Krabbe characterized the board's consideration today as a "breakthrough."

"We made a case and took it to the state," he said yesterday, referring to the proposed use of the planned four-story space, which would be between the existing building and the Maryland State Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, which was finished in 1993.

Because the Pratt is designated as the state library resource center, the state would fund the lion's share, about $43 million, of the capital project. The city's share would be $5.35 million of the overall cost, state records show, contributed in land value and bonds.

A Frederick Douglass quote will adorn the exterior of the new building: "Once you learn to read, you will be forever free."

Gov. Parris N. Glendening said in a statement yesterday that the central library expansion serves the goals of Smart Growth, his initiative to control development: "Libraries are essential in this age of lifelong learning. As a downtown library, the new Pratt annex advances our Smart Growth philosophy."

A public computer room with 35 stations in the new annex will enhance Internet access, library officials said.

The president of the Pratt board, Margot W. Heller, said the timing of the construction contract works well, because it coincides with a recent gift from Baltimore philanthropists Sylvia and Eddie C. Brown to help endow the African-American collection.

"We were just given a wonderful gift of $1 million, ... the largest single gift we've ever received outside of Enoch Pratt. Now we will have a marvelous place to house these books. The same is true for the Maryland collection," she said.

Carla D. Hayden, Pratt's director, could not be reached for comment yesterday. She was traveling from New Orleans, where an American Library Association meeting was held, Pratt officials said. Hayden is seeking the ALA presidency.

Collections of the work of prominent Maryland authors such as Edgar Allan Poe and H.L. Mencken also would be given more spacious quarters in the new annex. Mencken, the newspaper commentator known as the Sage of Baltimore, left much to posterity. "He saved everything," said the Pratt's manager of planning, John Sondheim.

Sondheim referred to the Maryland collection, now housed in the main building, as the state's depository of unique memorabilia, mementos and photographs of Maryland history and neighborhood geography.

Building the annex is a necessary first step, he said, to clear the main building, built between 1929 and 1933, of some collections and stacks. "We require some breathing space within the building," Sondheim said, before heating and plumbing systems can be replaced.

Today's award is expected to go to Columbia-based Costello Construction Inc. Ayers Saint Gross, the architectural firm hired to design the annex, drafted a slightly shorter and plainer addition that fits with the look and the style of the larger building.

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