With a new 3D printer on board, one Hereford resident could be designing his or her next science project. Another might be looking through a color palette for the final touches on a painting. Others simply could be getting comfortable with a favorite book open in their laps. All of these activities and more were possible after the Hereford branch of the Baltimore County Public Library opened Tuesday after long-anticipated renovations doubled the popular library's size.
The branch has served the community since 1988, when it opened on the first floor of the Hereford Center building on York Road. Initially at 5,000 square feet, the branch expanded to 7,500 square feet in 2002; with the latest expansion, it now stands at 15,000 square feet. Baltimore County had bought the building in 2013 and scheduled renovations to start by 2017. However, a burst water pipe flooded the library in July 2015, forcing the county to rethink its plans.
"We immediately began looking at what needed to be done to save as much as we could," said Paula Miller, Baltimore County Public Library system director.
After looking at the amount of repair work needed and comparing it to the previous renovation plan, county officials decided to embark on a complete overhaul of the library, with a shorter construction timeline.
"We just wanted to redo the entire building and use this as an opportunity rather than a crisis," Miller said.
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz supported the decision, with last year's announcement on the government website that the county would spend $3 million to renovate and expand the library.
"It is more fiscally responsible to proceed with the planned renovation as soon as possible rather than investing in costly temporary repairs now and a full renovation later," Kamenetz was quoted as saying.
During the renovations, library staff members were relocated to other branches. A bookmobile service at the Parkton Fire Station provided the community with a small selection and accepted returns. The Friends of Hereford Library volunteer group continued to host book discussions at various locations in the community, but group president Laura Pawlak said they were ready to return.
"I think that the community is very fired up," Pawlak said.
Other than fixing the water damage, the renovations included new stairwells and elevators and a new roof. Inside, the library has new shelving, furniture and flooring. People using the computers on site now enjoy faster Wi-Fi, and more space for personal laptops. There are also new self-checkout machines for library patrons. With a larger facility, the library also added seven part-time and three full-time staff members.
"We spent a lot of time really learning the ins and outs of the building," said Hereford branch manager Abigail "Abby" Cooley.
As evidence of its popularity, between June 2014 and July 2015 the library recorded more than 101,000 visitors who checked out 287,639 items. Still, the library at that time was considered a satellite branch due to its small size. Now, the library is considered a full-size branch.
"This is something we always dreamed of having," Cooley said.
Occupying both the first and the second floors of the Hereford Center helped the library add a large meeting room and small group study rooms. Pawlak said the new meeting spaces are a great help for local organizations such as the Friends of Hereford.
"We used to have all our programs out in the middle of the library," Pawlak said. "We'd be disturbing the other patrons and kids that were settled in trying to study."
Known as the Center of Excellence, the art space opening in the Hereford branch is the first in a series of future centers in the Baltimore County Library system. The centers were formed through a partnership with local education technology groups FutureMakers and the Digital Harbor Foundation. Each center will have a different theme. Since there is a vibrant creative community in Hereford, the branch selected art as its theme. Other than offering a 3D printer, Pawlak said the center will host an artist-in-residence and community art classes.
"We're really excited to see what we can use it for," Pawlak said.
Miller said library organizers also picked a nickname.
"We're calling it The Hive," Miller said. "We hope that there's a lot of activity going on in that space."
The walls of The Hive are set up to display local artwork, from which library staff had plenty to choose.
"We have a lot of talent in our community," Cooley said.
While the Hereford Zone is widely spread out, Pawlak said the library brings the community together in one place. With preschool activities and an adult speaker program, people are already used to running into their friends and neighbors at the library, she said. The updates to the Hereford branch reflect changes in libraries across the state, Miller said.
"Our public libraries are not just the books within our walls now," Miller said. "They're active, vibrant community gathering spaces."
Miller's observation is not limited to Hereford. Libraries across the country are playing a bigger role in the community. With online access to e-books and technology training, libraries are known as "centers for academic life and research and cherished spaces," according to a report published in 2015 by the American Library Association.
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The changes to the Hereford branch are numerous, but there is still more to come. Starting later this year, pending approval by Baltimore County government, phase two of the construction project will focus on expanding the parking lot to support more library visitors. Other than the reopening ceremonies, the library has many activities planned for the first week. For more information, go to the library's website at www.bcpl.info.