As artists vacate Bell Foundry, questions swirl around its future

New Miller library is 'a multi-purpose experience'

With the opening of the new Miller library in Ellicott City this week, Howard County residents will have what library officials are calling a 21st century facility for a 21st century education.

"I can't wait for the public to be here," said Susan Stonesifer, manager of the new Charles E. Miller Branch and Historical Center of the Howard County Library System. "This is a beautiful space. I turn around and I literally get chills."

The new branch is set to open Saturday, Dec. 17, after almost two years of construction. The 63,000 square feet building is the biggest of the library's six facilities — 40 percent larger than the original Miller Library — and the location is the busiest, with nearly one million visits per year, and nearly two million items borrowed.

Stonesifer said she is expecting anywhere from 3,500 to 4,000 visitors a day when the building opens.

On Friday, Dec. 9, a group of local dignitaries and media got a first look at the state-of-the-art facilities.

"All features are intended to make this a destination," said library president and CEO Valerie Gross. "It's a multi-purpose experience."

The features range from practical to aesthetic. Gross said that the interior design of the library — modern and nature-influenced — was intended to be reminiscent of various aspects of Howard County. The large stones outside the main entrance, she said, are suggestive of the Patapsco River, and the stonework inside the entrance incorporates colors reminiscent of those found on Main Street in Ellicott City.

Glass walls and ergonomic furniture lend a modern feel to the building. Many features are designed to be green — 72 solar panels on the roof and LED lights contributed to a Silver LEED Certification for the building. Other features — like a vegetative garden on the west-facing terrace — are designed to be welcoming, as well as green.

"You'll be able to sit out here with coffee and a book and watch the sunset," Gross said of the terrace.

The building is also the new home of the Howard County Historical Center and the new offices for the county's historical society. In working with the society, and strengthening partnerships with other historical organizations in the county, Gross said she hoped the library could help "bring history to life in unprecedented ways."

Outside of the library, also visible through a window-seat in the children's section, is the Enchanted Garden, a project made possible through a $25,000 grant from the Horizon Foundation. Once spring comes, the quarter-acre outdoor learning area will be home to an herb garden, "pizza garden" and 65 native Maryland plants, Gross said.

In a time when most libraries cost $350 per-square-foot to build, Stonesifer said, the Miller building cost $277. She recalled the first planning meeting in August 2008, shortly before the stock market crashed. The hard times made it even more incredible that such a building was possible, said County Executive Ken Ulman.

"We're very fortunate that, in this economy, we are able to invest in ourselves, to create a place of learning and exploring for all ages, but especially our children," Ulman said.

All told, the building cost $29 million and was completed $1 million under budget, Stonesifer said.

"This is our tax dollars at work, and they're working very hard," she said. "The community deserves to have this fabulous resource."

Elected officials agreed, and County Council Chairperson Mary Kay Sigaty said between the openness and friendliness of the building, and the quality of the available resources, the experience of walking through the library was simply one that made her smile.

"If we're talking about creature comforts, there are fabulous things here, and if we're talking about having a vast collection at your fingertips, that's here, too," she said.

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