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Closing of Waverly Library for major renovations 'bittersweet'

Jacques Thompson, 12, was born a year after his mother, Anne Marie Lalmansingh, became manager of the Waverly Library branch. The Roland Park Elementary/Middle School seventh grader loves to read and is a regular at the Waverly branch. He also likes to visit other branches around the city with his mother from time to time, to see what they're like.

"He's a library baby," Lalmansingh said proudly.

Now, the Hamilton family is losing the library branch nearest to their hearts. The Waverly branch at 401E. 33rd St. is closing Saturday, Aug. 24 for at least 18 months for major renovations.

"Can you describe me as crying?" said Lalmansingh, who has been there long enough to see the toddlers and teenagers of 2002 grow up.

"They're in college now. Some have children now," she said.

Waverly branch patrons, many of whom come from Guilford, Oakenshawe, Abell and Charles Village, are being advised to use other branches in the area, including Northwood, Roland Park, Hampden and Govans — although the Govans branch, too, is closed for renovations and is not expected to reopen until October, Lalmansingh said.

The branch's collection of close to 45,000 books, magazines and periodicals are expected to be sent be sent to book sales, other branches and a warehouse, said children's librarian Rose Anne Ullrich.

"We're boxing up books now," said Ullrich, who is happy the 42-year-old branch is being renovated, but sad that the long closing period will be disruptive to the community.

"For us, it's more bittersweet," she said.

Lalmansingh and her staff will be re-assigned during the renovations, and she will be helping out at the Northwood branch, she said. Ullrich, who has worked at the Waverly branch since 2006, said she expects to float among several different branches in the city.

In the recent weeks, staff members, parents and children have been saying their goodbyes at parties for participants in the summer reading program and the Mother Goose story-telling program for toddlers.

Lalmansingh said she would like to return to Waverly, but doesn't know whether she or other employees will be back.

"I would hope so," she said.

Taking a 'hit'

On Saturday morning, the popular library, one of the most used in the city, quickly filled with patrons, many of whom had no idea the branch was closing for construction.

Louis Whitcomb's first thought was to use the Govans branch, on Bellona Avenue at York Road. Then, the Guilford resident remembered, "It's closed for awhile."

Having the Waverly branch close, even temporarily, makes the college professor sad.

"I think it's a hit for the community," said Whitcomb, 51, chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering on the Homewood campus of Johns Hopkins University. "It gets used by so many people."

"I didn't know about it (closing) until just last week," said Shannon Simpson, 36, of Ednor Gardens, a Hopkins librarian, who stopped in with her 2-year-old daughter, Maddie, to find out where the closest branches are.

"Now, it's going to be frustrating," Simpson said, as Maddie picked a children's picture book off a shelf. Simpson said she would probably go downtown to the Central Library.

Kate Bloom, 32, of Oakenshawe, a preschool teacher in Hunt Valley, wasn't sure how necessary it is to renovate the library.

"I guess it's old, but libraries are old," she said. "New is good. Old is good, too. Homes are old and they have character."

But "character" is not a word often used to describe the Waverly branch, a concrete and brick structure built for $433,000, that opened in 1971 on the Waverly-Oakenshawe border, opposite the 32nd Street Farmers Market. On one wall of the library's meeting room is posted a 1970 article from the old Baltimore News-American, which described the then-new library as looking like "a fortress."

Some want new branch

That's a word still used by many area residents, who have long clamored not just for renovations, but for a brand new library, saying the current building is an eyesore. Some community leaders, including City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, Sandy Sparks, of Charles Village, and Mark Counselman, of Oakenshawe, have questioned plans for a $6 million renovation. A year ago, Clarke said the city needed to go "back to the drawing board" on renovation plans, because she felt they didn't go far enough.

As recently as January 2013, Sparks held a meeting at her house to strategize on how to convince the city to spend more money and rebuild.

Enoch Pratt Free Library System director Carla Hayden has since acknowledged the public sentiment, saying Clarke has been asking her for years, "Why can't we just build a new one?"

Library system spokesman Roswell Encina said earlier this year, "For $6 million, there's no way we can demolish this building. But that's a pretty penny the Waverly community is getting. By the time this is renovated, it will look like a brand new building."

Plans call for an abundance of glass and upgraded lighting to brighten the building. The front doors would open automatically, and the entrance turnstile would be eliminated. The circulation desk would be more centrally located and shelving would be lower for easier access, she said.

Other features would include a secure drop box, a security station inside the front entrance, a computer lab for programs such as work force development training (in addition to public access computers), a children's area with its own story room, a bank of new windows and a redone parking lot.

The building would also benefit from technology and office equipment upgrades, including a public fax machine, and ceiling projectors and a sound system in the meeting room. The stage in the room would be removed and re-used for the circulation desk, library system officials said.

But Counselman, who has complained in the past that the building was in deplorable condition and should be torn down, said earlier this year, "I don't see how this is so much better than what we have now."

Bloom, browsing in the library Saturday, said renovation would be fine, but the library is all right the way it is.

"It gives me what I need," she said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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