Growth prompts $57 million library plan

Replacing Miller branch top priority for officials

October 28, 2004|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

Facing a growing population that heavily uses its public libraries, the Howard County Library system has adopted a master plan that calls for $57 million in library construction over the next 10 to 15 years.

Four new libraries and several renovations are recommended to accommodate more materials, community spaces, programs, public computers and services for teenagers and senior citizens.

The library will also look for ways to extend its hours and be open Sundays all year, increase the funds it spends on library materials, and use technology -- including self-serve check-out machines -- to improve the processing of library materials.

"The county recommended that we develop a master plan, which was an exceptionally fine idea," said Library Director Valerie J. Gross. "The population is growing, the demographics are changing. ... We need to have a plan in place that ensures we are investing funding in the most appropriate manner."

According to the plan, which was adopted by the library board of directors Tuesday, the top construction priority for the system is a 82,500-square-foot library in Ellicott City. It will replace the Miller branch library, which is the county's oldest.

A detailed plan suggests a two-story building with an auditorium, an art gallery, an area to house the Howard County Historical Society and space for the Friends of the Library group.

Gross said library leaders are optimistic they can acquire land adjacent to the current Miller branch from the Miller family, which owns the land. Those discussions are under way.

The library will seek funding for land acquisition and design in the county's fiscal 2006 budget, and it hopes to see the $26 million cost spread over four to five years, Gross said. The plan also calls for $904,000 over the next two years for immediate repairs to library buildings.

Future steps in the master plan include:

Moving administrative and support offices from the east Columbia library and the central library to the vacated Miller branch and renovating those two structures at a total for an estimated cost of $2.1 million.

Building 35,000- square-foot libraries in Elkridge and Savage to replace branches in those locations -- those branch libraries -- on the same sites or possibly elsewhere along U.S. 1 -- at a cost of $11 million each.

Constructing a 25,000- square-foot library in the Maple Lawn Farm or Waverly Woods area for $7.5 million.

According to the consultants who prepared the master plan, the costs are calculated as if the projects were starting this year. Escalating prices over the next 10 to 15 years will have to be factored in.

The library hired PROVIDENCE Associates, based in Arizona, to study the demographics of the county, the activities of the library system, and the opinions of library patrons and community leaders. The consultants found that the county is projected to reach about 320,000 people by 2030. And 95 percent of Howard County residents -- among the highest proportion in the nation -- are believed to use libraries regularly.

Between fiscal 2000 and 2003, circulation of library materials rose 62 percent, library visits grew 110 percent and electronic access of library resources and services increased 112 percent, researchers found.

"You have a library that is well-utilized by the community, that is valued by the community," said Laura J. Isenstein, one of the consultants, at a community presentation yesterday. "The community views the library as a very important quality-of-life necessity."

The demographics of the county, including higher-than-national-averages in education, home ownership and median income and families with children, also indicate library use will continue to be high, she said.

The master plan, therefore, intends to move the Howard County Library to the nationally recognized standard of 1 square foot per capita, up from the library's current 0.62 square foot per capita.

"Every one of our libraries, except for Glenwood, is currently to small," Gross said.

"This is a very long-term look at the library system and a very optimistic one," said Victoria Goodman, a Howard County spokeswoman. "It will provide some framework to work with in the future."

She said the recommendations will be weighed in the budget processes in coming years, and could be modified as the county faces different priorities.

County residents may view copies of the plan at any branch, starting next week.

Information: 410-313-7750.

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