Havre de Grace library branch to be replaced with larger facility

Harford County Public Library officials are planning to replace the 26-year-old Havre de Grace branch at the corner of North Union and Pennington avenues with a branch almost twice as big.

The members of the Harford County Board of Estimates approved a nearly $400,000 design services contract for the new branch during their meeting Aug. 8, and Library Director Mary Hastler said Tuesday the design process is expected to last about a year.

She said groundbreaking would take place in the late fall 2014 if everything goes "as planned."

The new branch would be two stories and take up about 15,000 square feet on the same property as the existing branch, which is one story and 8,400 square feet, Hastler said.

The Harford County Public Library system has operated a branch in Havre de Grace since 1960, and the one at Union and Pennington has been there since March 1987, Hastler said.

The library director said the Havre de Grace branch "happens to be one of our smaller branches," but is also one of the "most heavily used" in terms of walk-in traffic.

She said a feasibility study done in 2009 indicated the branch was "undersized," and a larger building would alleviate issues with interior space and parking.

Hastler said 14,232 people walked into the building in June; she also said 241,201 items were circulated during the 2013 fiscal year, which ended June 30, about 6 percent of the system-wide circulation.

She said more than 3,000 people attended programs at the branch during FY2013, 7 percent of the system's programming attendance; the branch also hosts 9 percent of the system's programs.

Finally, staff at the Havre de Grace branch handle 8 percent of the county system's "information reader assistance questions," or reference questions, Hastler explained.

"It's a nice community branch, where people walk to it," she said. "It's a great location in the city and our customers really use it."

The branch hummed with activity late Wednesday morning, as patrons used the computers, checked out books and DVDs, and high-spirited children explored the children's area and the stacks.

A small group of teenagers played computer games in a separate room for teens, with decor designed by local youths.

The room held at least eight teens Wednesday morning, who all said they resided in Havre de Grace. They played games on the four branch computers, or worked on personal laptops.

A television with game consoles and a DVD player was against one wall.

Coral Ramsey, 16, joked that the new teen room should have about 10 computers.

"They fight over the computers a lot," she said of her friends. "They literally race each other to the computers."

The teens also suggested putting in more chairs and even soundproofing the new room.

Tracy Miller, the assistant branch manager, pointed out several mobile DVD shelves, which staff must move to free up space for community events.

"It would be great if we could accommodate more [for events] and still let people use the library in the same [manner]," she said.

Branch Manager Irmgarde Brown said library officials want "to make our library really a true center for the community, and an anchor; we have to be able to provide a lot of services an the space in which to house them."

She said 75 to 100 people visit for large events, especially during the summer.

The branch is also the scene of smaller events, and meetings of groups centered around reading and other hobbies, such as knitting or photography, Brown said.

The branch manager said she also wants to bring in technology that is "cutting edge," and host programs for children's literacy.

Brown greeted regular patron Mary Brossart, of Havre de Grace, who carried her 8-month-old grandson, Christopher, in her arms.

Brossart, who also hosts a knitting group at the branch, said a larger facility would be good for the children.

"Our library is so much a part of our downtown atmosphere, and part of the Main Street organization," Brown said.

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