Hopkins to build library branch

Hospital, Pratt to swap properties

Broadway facility to be relocated

Estimated $4 million project

Connected to renewal of east side

benefits for both, officials say

April 29, 2002|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Counter to the trend of city library branch closures, an Enoch Pratt Free Library branch will be built in East Baltimore, compliments of a wealthy neighbor.

Johns Hopkins Medicine plans to acquire the neighboring site of the Broadway branch for expansion and, in exchange, build a branch roughly the same size as the existing library by late 2004, Pratt and Hopkins officials said.

This is the first time since 1977 that a new free-standing library branch would become part of the system.

Library officials estimate that Hopkins would spend $4 million to build the 14,000-square-foot replacement for the Broadway branch, completed in 1970.

Pratt officials expressed delight at the prospect of a new branch delivered free at Central Avenue and Orleans Street.

The new library would be three blocks from the existing branch at 301 N. Broadway, across from the 53-acre medical campus in East Baltimore.

"We won't be paying a dime for a building designed for what we're doing now," said Mona M. Rock, Pratt spokeswoman.

Hopkins views the land on which the library sits as a prime spot for a building offering patient, residential and family services, said Terry Todesco, a Hopkins spokeswoman.

"We're desperate for space here, and we are committed to keeping the community's vital structures," Todesco said.

A document is being drafted to finalize the deal between two of the city's best-known institutions, with city housing officials watching the transaction.

"What you have is the pledge of Hopkins to build a new library branch - and they're going to do it, no question about it, and they deserve credit for their dedication to the community," said P. David Sowell, the city housing authority development adviser.

The timing is crucial. Pratt and Hopkins officials promise that the state-of-the-art library would replace the older branch before it is demolished to clear room for Hopkins to expand on its eastern edge.

"It will be days and weeks rather than months and years," said John W. Sondheim, Pratt's manager of planning. "They can't take it down until the new one is open. Then they get the piece of [city library] property."

`Better location'

Sondheim said the library system would benefit from a "better building in a better location for the community," on the city-owned southeast corner parcel across the street from Paul Laurence Dunbar High School.

The library's relocation is part of a larger land exchange between the city and Hopkins, a large-scale redevelopment of East Baltimore that includes the makeover of blocks of decaying rowhouses around the medical campus.

As part of that deal, Hopkins will turn over to the city the site of the former Church Hospital, which the city will use for residential redevelopment.

The city, in exchange, will provide a vacant parcel to build a library branch. Once that branch is built, Hopkins will take over the old branch site on Broadway.

Close amenity

The relocation of the library is "important for the entire development," Sowell said, because it will be an amenity within walking distance for the new federally funded $65 million Hope Six housing development.

That project will feature a mix of private and public housing in a model that seeks to blend into the neighborhood.

Plan for the area

The agreement between Hopkins and Pratt is not directly related to the biotechnology park that Hopkins hopes to advance on the north side of its campus. But it is part of the city's and Hopkins' overall plan for the area.

The land-for-building deal occurs at an opportune time for the Pratt system, shrunk by seven branch closures in five years. But the library has not begun to inform patrons of the move.

The proposed change did not please all Broadway branch users last week, including 12-year-old Nelson Armstrong.

"I've been around this library my whole life," he said, adding that three blocks away is a different neighborhood.

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