Waverly Library renovation plans revealed

A rendering by the architectural firm Buchart Horn shows how the Waverly Library would look like inside after a planned renovation. (Courtesy of Buchart Horn and Enoch Pratt / April 12, 2013)

The Waverly library would be about 2,000 square feet bigger than it is now, with a wall of glass, more computers, modernized equipment and separate areas for children and teens, as planned in a $6 million renovation project, Baltimore City library system officials told an audience of 50 people at a public meeting Thursday.

"We are here, finally, to talk about renovation," said Carla Hayden, chief executive officer of the Enoch Pratt Free Library system. "There have been some bumps and starts."

The meeting drew residents from Waverly, Oakenshawe, Guilford and Charles Village, for whom the library is a neighborhood branch. Many residents and their city councilwoman, Mary Pat Clarke, have been pushing for more than six years to expand or rebuild the aging, brick and concrete library, which has a reputation as looking like a fallout shelter or a fort.

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, Sandy Sparks of Charles Village and Mark Counselman of Oakenshawe were among residents who met at Sparks' house to strategize on how to convince the city to spend more money and rebuild.

Hayden acknowledged the public sentiment, saying Clarke has been asking her for years, "Why can't we just build a new one?"

But that can't happen, said Roswell Encina, a library system spokesman, who attended the meeting at the Waverly library, 400 E. 33rd St.

"For $6 million, there's no way we can demolish this building," Encina said. "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, said Patricia Costello, director of neighborhood services for the library system. The front doors would open automatically, and the entrance turnstile would be eliminated, she said. 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, 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.

Worrisome to Clarke and some residents at the meeting is that the library would be closed for about a year during construction, which is tentatively slated to start in late summer or fall. Mobile libraries would be used, and other library branches are in the area, including in Roland Park, Hampden, Govans and Northwood, officials noted.

Reaction to the updated plans was mixed.

Joe Stewart, of Waverly, said the planned bank of windows on the front of the building "are one of the most appealing parts" of the plan.

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

Sparks said the plans were somewhat better.

"I'd still like to see the community (meeting) room expanded," she said, but added that overall, "They have a better plan than they did before."

She said she and other critics may have played a role in the new plans.

"I think we forced the issue," she said.

What Sparks still really wants is demolition and a rebuild, but she said that's no longer a realistic option.

"The door was slammed shut on demolishing this," she said. "That was pretty obvious."