The Savage branch of the Howard County Public Library is once again set to become an open book after an extensive renovation designed to modernize the aging facility and highlight a science and technology theme.
"The goal was to make this a more open and inviting space," said Valerie Gross, president and CEO of the county library system. "We want to really emphasize the idea of public education for all."
After a year-and-a-half closure, the branch will celebrate a grand opening July 22. Patrons have used a nearby temporary location during the $6.1 million county-funded revamp.
Changes to the site are apparent even before the visitor passes through the building's doors.
The library's new courtyard features a "biohabit" garden with a fountain that collects stormwater and distributes it into a reservoir — then uses it in the care of newly planted native trees on the site.
Librarians — who carry the title "instructors" in the Howard library system — can also use the space as an outdoor environmental instruction lab for classes and programs the branch hosts.
"This is a fun way to teach and showcase environmental science where kids can actually see the process at work," said Adam Ganser, a landscape architect who helped design the area.
Earlier this year, County Executive Ken Ulman announced that money was being added to the Savage renovation project to provide for environmental and stormwater improvements. County Council member Jen Terrasa, whose district includes the Savage Branch, said in February the library would become "a model for stormwater management."
Before the renovation, the branch shared its facility with a senior center and a county health department office. When both of those organizations moved to the North Laurel Community Center in spring 2013, the library was able to expand to the full 24,000 square feet of the building.
Officials said the building is sectioned to appeal to patrons of all ages. Younger children can enjoy a play space with a child-sized entrance that doubles as a classroom, while teens will benefit from an engineering enclave, with specialty seating and computers.
"We really wanted to meld the science and technology theme throughout the whole building," said Melanie Hennigan, an architect on the project, who focused on the redesigning the facility.
Other highlights from the renovation include 51 public computers, study rooms named for innovators such as Carl Sagan and Sally Ride, tubular skylights that harvest natural light and an audio/video classroom that features a sound booth.
"There were really good bones to the building, but it was getting old and really needed a lift," said Julia Crawford, an architect who works with Hennigan.
The Savage branch, which receives approximately 25,000 visits a month, offers free classes to students of all ages, including those through the system's HiTech initiative, which provides classes and training to students using science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) initiatives.
Gross said unique courses and engaged instructors continue to bring customers to the Savage branch, as other institutions struggle to attract business in a modern world. Classes typically fill up before branch organizers even begin to advertise.
"We teach 21st-century skills that are fun and applicable to 21st century jobs," she said.
The new Savage Branch and STEM Education Center, 9525 Durness Lane, is scheduled to open on Tuesday, July 22, at 12:30 p.m.
Reporter Amanda Yeager contributed to this story.