by Lisa Tome
When the North East community gets a new library it won't be the "Taj Mahal".
But it will cost many millions.
That's what Cecil County Public Library Director Denise Davis told county officials recently.
Although it opened in 1991, the current library is too small and doesn't meet the needs of the community. She pledged that the new branch will be of significant benefit to the community as well as help the county meet goals for both education and economic development.
"It's our pleasure to talk about this project," said Davis.
Library supporters and board members, as well as North East Mayor Robert McKnight were also in attendance to hear about the proposed new branch.
The proposed branch will feature a 30,000 square foot branch library plus a 15,000 square foot library headquarters.
Davis said the building has not been designed yet, but the plans are based on state standards. That way, the project can later qualify for state grant funds. "Efficiency and effectiveness is the emphasis," said Davis.
This will also allow the library "headquarters" to be relocated from Elkton to North East. That will free up space in the Elkton branch.
North East is the fastest growing area of the county. The children's portion of the library will have a focus on early childhood education. Potentially, the new branch will be two stories.
Parking issues at the Elkton Branch are being addressed as part of the Gilpin Manor school project. Davis said that the increased parking and moving the headquarters will result in extending the life of the Elkton branch.
The space increase at Elkton will allow that branch to expand its children's space, there can also be expanded STEM programming.
The current North East library is 2,800 square feet. It has one study table each for adults and children. The meeting room capacity is 30 people. For every three children in the Elkton area who participates in summer reading, there is one child in North East.
"We want to avoid costly mistakes of the past," said Davis. She explained that the library opened in 1991 at 2,800 square feet to serve 16,000. "They should have had a branch the size of Perryville 25 years ago," she said. Davis said the library doesn't meet the needs because there were no state standards at the time. The branch prior to 1991 was 300 square feet so at the time, a library that was nine times larger seemed good.
The estimate is $14.8 million at $330 per square foot. Davis said the state "thinks we have a really good project" which means the branch could receive funding for up to 64% of the cost up to $5 million. But it's a competitive process. Fixtures, furniture, and books would add an additional $1.5 million to the price.
"There's got to be strong support. If the county is waffling, the state will not give us dollars," she said. "The priority is getting state grants. That's why the priority is being given to adhering to state recommendations."
The land, in the North East Station, has already been purchased.
She said that the branch will not have glitz. Instead the focus will be substance, durability, and functionality.
Councilman Dan Scheckenburger said that the 15,000 square feet work space should cost less - he estimated $160-$180 per square feet.
Councilman Robert Hodge said he wants a list of what happens in the administrative space.
Davis said she wants to move this project forward in fiscal years 2018 or 2019.
The library could also give up rental space. The libraries rent space in three locations.
There will also be some issues in disposing of the current library. The branch was built on town-owned land with county money.
"We all agree (the current branch) it's too small. And we're anxious to see it. How much can we afford? You're competing with roads, public safety, and schools. Unfortunately, the county can't provide full funding for everybody all the time. We are all on board with the need," said Hodge.
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