Highlandtown residents got their first peek last night at models for a $8.5 million public library planned on a site that once housed a slaughterhouse, vaudeville theater and, most recently, a movie house.
Planners unveiled four versions of three-dimensional plans for building the Southeast Anchor Library at Eastern Avenue and South Conkling Street to a crowd of 100 residents, students and library officials at the nearby Patterson Park branch.
Scheme 2, a two-building plan enclosed within gardens, won the biggest raves.
"Usually, I just drive by libraries," said Sharnia Paul, 17, a senior at Harbor City High School. "But I really like what I see. I can't wait until it opens."
Slated to open in 2005, it would be the first newly built library in the city in 30 years, said Carla Hayden, executive director of the Enoch Pratt Free Library system.
Each of the designs for the 30,000-square-foot branch features a community meeting space, computer laboratory, separate children's and teen areas, copy shop, cafe and gardens.
Architects from Probst, Mason Inc., Hillier Group and Alexander Design Studios answered questions about the brown-and-white cardboard models and gave future patrons a glimpse at what may come once ground is broken in 2004.
The favored design, by Hillier architect Weichi Chen, calls for tearing down the 90-year-old Grand Theater, which closed in 1981.
The Grand, though not designated a historic landmark, is a nostalgic favorite with an art deco facade. Before that, the brick movie house was home to a vaudeville theater whose stage, according to local lore, was built over the remains of a turn-of-the-century abattoir.
Going into last night's meeting, a community advisory panel gave its lowest marks to the design that would preserve the lemon-lime-colored stucco facade.
"It would cost $750,000 to shore up the facade, and that amount translates into a loss of 4,500 square feet of library space," said Jacqueline Watts, who chairs the advisory panel, was just elected president of Friends of Enoch Pratt Free Library and edits a community newspaper, The Baltimore Guide. "We don't want to lose even an inch."
Chen's design combines a 2 1/2 -story brick building connected by a glass atrium to a smaller two-story building, enclosed within an urban piazza at the north end of the lot and a reading garden at the eastern corner.
"This really is not similar to any other library," he said. "The modern library takes a much more active role in the community. You have books on tape, CD-ROMs, and children play a much greater role."
Originally, planners had hoped to build a 40,000-square- foot library in Highlandtown. The $8.5 million bond issue approved in 1999 buys less in construction and materials today, forcing library officials to aim for a smaller footprint.
Members of the community panel toured libraries in the city and surrounding counties to determine what they wanted and did not want.
"We all said pretty much the same thing: not the Towson library," Watts said. "We didn't want that sort of Fort Apache urban architecture. We wanted to have a little give-and-take between the street and what's happening inside because it's really a neighborhood library."
The tiny existing Highlandtown branch, tucked into a storefront a block west of the new site, is slated to close once the Southeast Anchor Library opens.