Library building plans move ahead

November 30, 2008|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

Harford County's library system has made budget cuts, managing to trim operating costs without decreasing services, and will move forward on two long-planned capital projects in Whiteford and Churchville.

The 11-branch system has seen an increase in circulation, which its staff attributes in part to the sagging economy.

"When the economy turns down, library use goes up," said Audra L. Caplan, library director. "We have the resources, especially the free computers that can help with job searches. We have readily available the materials people want and need."

But like other county agencies faced with a sluggish economy, the libraries had to cut funding.

Circulation climbed nearly 12 percent to 4.4 million items in the past fiscal year, an increase of nearly 500,000. With the number of borrowed items at 4 million in May, officials said, circulation might reach 5 million by year's end. The system's collection numbers more than 1 million items with nearly 200,000 registered borrowers and 1.6 million walk-in customers annually.

The library cut costs without decreasing staff, service or hours, Caplan said. Four branches are continuing their traditional Sunday hours through April.

"We have managed the cutback with minimal impact to public services," she said.

The system is proceeding with a $4.2 million expansion of the Whiteford branch and working on the design for the Churchville library, its 12th facility.

Early next month, the county will break ground on a one-year project that will double the 7,000-square-foot building at 2407 Whiteford Road. Although the building will close for construction, the library will continue service to the area in a modular building on the site.

"There will be service the whole time, with a small popular materials collection," Caplan said. "Patrons can order materials from all over the system and receive them within a day."

Engineering and design are proceeding on the $11 million Churchville Activity Center, which will include a library, science center, meeting area and a double gymnasium. That groundbreaking could occur late next summer, with completion expected in about a year.

The library foundation, which recently helped raise $115,000 at the annual black-and-white gala, has launched a $3 million campaign to help pay for the Churchville building's energy-efficient, environmentally friendly aspects and its science center.

The project, patterned after the Norrisville Activity Center, which Caplan called "highly functional and well-utilized," is the result of a second partnership between the library system and the county Department of Recreation and Parks.

Churchville has long needed its own library branch, she said. The county had land available, about 173 acres, at its popular recreation complex along Route 155 near Churchville Elementary School and a cooperative partner in its recreation department.

"This is a great location with a captive audience of children," Caplan said.

Plans call for a 38,000-square-foot building, of which 13,500 square feet will be devoted to the library's use. That space will also include about 1,500 square feet for a science center with its own entrance

"We are hoping to build homegrown scientists," library spokeswoman Janine Lis said.

The science center concept, which began on a smaller scale at the Edgewood branch a year ago, is an effort to foster a lifelong interest in science by making it fun and exciting, Caplan said.

The library is working with the Maryland Science Center and using lessons it learned at Edgewood to develop the program, which will include exhibits, a lab and an area for rotating items on loan from the science center in Baltimore.

"The Maryland Science Center is helping us with what the space should look like and what we will need," Caplan said.

Several area science and technology companies, including those at Aberdeen Proving Ground, are consulting on the project and will provide visiting scientists for the program.

"As far as we know, we are the first public library with a science center in the country," Caplan said.

The building's green aspects will also serve as a learning tool. An observation deck will overlook the structure's roof and give visitors an opportunity to see how an energy-efficient roof works.

The nearby elementary school has just one playing field, but there is enough county-owned land on the adjoining property to add another multipurpose athletic field and an amphitheater for outdoor library and science programs.

The Churchville recreation complex already includes a building with a gym and a dozen playing fields - eight baseball diamonds and four soccer/lacrosse fields. The middle section of the new building will house several meeting rooms for the recreation council, library volunteers and other groups.

"This is a centrally located area with very active recreation participation," said Arden McClune, chief of capital planning for Harford's parks department. "We have hundreds and hundreds registering for our programs."

Once the new building opens, the recreation department will concentrate its countywide gymnastics program in the older building, she said.

"Anything beyond introductory gymnastics will be housed in this location," McClune said. "Basketball, indoor tennis and other sports will move to the new double gym, which will have a movable wall to allow two basketball games at the same time."

The Norrisville center, with a similar but smaller layout, has proven to be a successful partnership with the library, she said.

"It is getting great use all the way around," she said. "Churchville will get even more use with a double gym and a library with a science center."

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