Howard County officials ceremonially broke ground on the $30 million Charles E. Miller Library and Historical Center in Ellicott City on Monday before a crowd of more than 100 people. Construction is to begin in earnest this spring, and the building is to be finished by December 2011.
The long-planned, 63,000-square-foot, two-story stone, glass and metal "green" building is to rise in what is now a cornfield behind the current 23,000-square-foot library, which dates to 1962, in the 9400 block of Frederick Road. The state contributed $1.2 million of the cost, which is mostly financed by county bonds.
Library director Valerie Gross was ebullient at the chilly outdoor event, held in the parking lot behind the current building.
"It is simply fantastic," Gross said to cheers from the crowd, some of whom were library employees.
She said the new building will have three times the space for books, computers and meetings, and will have architectural touches intended to evoke the county's past, from the stone-arched free-standing wall on the exterior to the hints of the old Enchanted Forest children's amusement park in the children's book section.
Gross is also hoping to see an educational "Enchanted Garden" behind the new building where children can learn about the natural world while producing food people can eat.
That's part of the plan to make the new Miller library as environmentally friendly and energy-efficient as possible. The second floor will be the new home for the county's Historical Society, which now uses a cramped house next to the Circuit Court building in Ellicott City.
"This is a day I've been looking forward to for some time," County Executive Ken Ulman told the eager crowd, noting that Miller, while a branch, will be the county's largest library building when completed. The current building will then be renovated for library offices, freeing building and parking space administrators now use at the two big libraries in Columbia.
The recession is no deterrent, said both Ulman and Courtney Watson, the County Council chairwoman who represents Ellicott City. Both are Democrats.
"It's an important long-term investment, making space for our children," Ulman said after the ceremony. "We think it's important to make progress, even in tough times." Proceeding with the project could also produce savings in the form of lower prices from contractors hurting for business, said Watson, who has long pushed for the project and hopes to see a larger library in Elkridge, too.
"I think it's an important need in the county," she said, noting that Marriott's Ridge High School, built during the last recession, cost $15 million less than expected.
The library project received bipartisan political support, with Republican state Dels. Gail H. Bates and Warren E. Miller, who represent the area, at the 10 a.m. groundbreaking along with a group of Democrats. Bates noted that her son is a county librarian at the Glenwood Branch in the western county.
"This was the only library close to my home when we moved here," she said. "I'm really pleased this is moving forward." Warren Miller said that although he's not related, he praised the family of the late county commissioner Charles E. Miller, for which the building is named, for agreeing to let the county use their land for the project. Others also recalled the past.
"We have come a long way from the bookmobile," recalled Watson, who was born in 1962 and grew up in Simpsonville, near Atholton. Her library access as a child in a more-rural, sparsely populated county was an old truck outfitted with books that visited various parts of the county. Now Howard has six library branches.
The current Ellicott City branch is the county's oldest and smallest building.