Anne Arundel County is moving forward with plans to build a new library in Annapolis — preferably on a grassy field next to the district courthouse on Rowe Boulevard.
The state-owned property is the top choice for a new regional library, said Hampton "Skip" Auld, the director of the county's library system.
Auld envisions a 65,000-square-foot library — as big as a grocery store, he said — with new computers and plenty of books. It might have an art gallery and host high-profile speakers; and perhaps work with the nearby Maryland State Archives or the Annapolis Visitors Center on special projects, he said.
County Executive Laura Neuman is proposing $3.5 million in the upcoming budget plan to acquire land and start planning for the new library. All told, the project would cost about $39 million, with construction potentially in 2016 and 2017. The budget must be approved by the County Council.
The current library branch on West Street bustles with activity. On a typical weeknight, nearly every computer station is in use, tutors work with students and a steady stream of patrons checks out books.
Auld said Rowe Boulevard would be a better option than rebuilding on the existing site. Rowe Boulevard is a main artery into town for tourists, state lawmakers and other visitors, he said, offering a level of visibility that's lacking on West Street. The current library is a single-story building set back from the tree-lined road.
"Being seen and having a good location is very important," he said.
But the library isn't the only organization with designs on the Rowe Boulevard site. The Naval Academy Athletic Association is interested in the land, too.
The academy's Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium is adjacent to the property, and Chet Gladchuk, the academy's athletics director, said the association has looked at the site either for a new entrance into the stadium or as a welcome center for tourists.
He said he hadn't heard that the library was interested in the site.
Using the land for a new entrance into the stadium would help traffic flow more smoothly during Navy football game days and other stadium events. It would keep cars off neighborhood streets, including Farragut Road and Taylor Avenue, Gladchuk said.
Alternatively, a welcome center would give tourists a place to get their bearings and hop on the free trolley shuttles that run around Annapolis, he said.
"The thought was like Williamsburg and some of these other great historic towns. When people come into Annapolis, they kind of wander and look for direction and guidance, Gladchuk said.
While surprised by the library's interest in the property, Gladchuk hopes whatever is done with the land benefits the community — whether it's a library, welcome center or gateway to the stadium.
Auld said he's confident the county can get the land, and he's OK sharing it with the Naval Academy if that's what makes the most sense.
House of Delegates Speaker Michael E. Busch, an Annapolis Democrat, confirmed that he's involved in acquiring the site for the library, saying, "It's something the community can embrace."
Michael Gaines, assistant secretary for real estate at the state Department of General Services, said he's not aware of any active negotiations on the property. The Department of General Services oversees all property owned by the state government.
If the Rowe Boulevard location doesn't work out, Auld has backup options — including rebuilding on the current site, though he worries about what it could accommodate.
He said the new library needs to be big enough to cater to the services today's patrons need — not just books, but audio books and DVDs, computer access, job skills and tutoring assistance, and community meetings.
"Libraries are the new community centers," he said.