New Norrisville complex offers community a place to read, play


Members of the community gathered yesterday for the grand opening of the Norrisville Library and Recreation Center.

The festivities, which began with a performance by the Norrisville Elementary School fifth-grade band, included speakers, refreshments and tours of the facility.

The 13,150-square-foot building is an efficient utilization of space, said Arden McClune, chief of capital planning and development for the Harford County Department of Parks and Recreation.

"More bulk for your buck," she said last week. "The building allows mom and dad to read in the library while their kids are practicing in the gym."

Richard D. Poole LLC, a construction company based in York, Pa., was chosen to build the center from nine companies that submitted bids. Construction on the estimated $1.5 million facility began in December 2001.

"This is the first facility of its kind in the county," McClune said.

A common complaint about suburbs is the lack of places for casual interactions, McClune said. "In Norrisville, you don't get out on Route 136 and walk," she said.

McClune said she hopes the new center would bring people together. "There is something about community facilities that make people feel like their communities are stronger, even if they never go in.," she said.

The idea for the facility came about in a recreation council meeting with Norrisville residents about eight years ago, McClune said.

"They wanted something in their community that served two community purposes," she said.

Filling a need

The joint venture between the Harford County Public Library and the Harford County Parks and Recreation Department is the government working at its best, said Audra Caplan, director of the Harford County Public Library System.

"Everybody is working to give this community exactly what they wanted -- a gymnasium, a meeting space and a state-of-the-art library facility," Caplan said.

Since 1997, the library was in a portable building and was cramped for space. "There was a need for more library service -- more material and extended hours," said Joan Stiffler, Norrisville branch manager.

The new building expands the library from 1,400 square feet to more than 4,000 square feet. In addition, there is a shared multipurpose room, which allows the library to offer programs, such as story time and book discussions.

"This will level the playing field for Norrisville kids, and open up a whole new world to the county," Caplan said.

The new library also has space for 25,000 books and other materials. It also has 15 computers for public access to library databases and the Internet.

The new branch expands library hours in Norrisville to 51 hours per week, Mondays through Saturdays.

"The extended hours better serve the community," Stiffler said, adding that previously, residents would have to drive to other full-service branches. "This becomes the community center because everything is here. This is really the community center -- this forms the heart of the community."

Although Norrisville has several outdoor fields, it had no indoor facility. Before, programs were offered at Norrisville Elementary School. And for years, athletes packed the school's cafeteria/gymnasium, said Michael Getz, recreation specialist for the Harford County Department of Parks and Recreation.

More practice room

"You couldn't even practice. The space was small and narrow, like a little matchbox," said Rick Russell, principal of Norrisville Elementary School. Anyone older than 9 years old was at an extreme disadvantage, Russell said.

The Norrisville activity center will include an athletic hall, a 500-square-foot multipurpose meeting room, and the park and recreation department offices.

Basketball, aerobics, volleyball, yoga and tae kwon do are available at the center.

"We are getting ready to start senior programs in March and a pre-school program," Getz said.

For the North Harford Hawks basketball team, the center provides a less-crowded facility to practice.

There is a big difference between the two facilities, said Ryan Cox, 13, of Darlington, who was at basketball practice last week. "It feels bigger because there are not as many people here."

At North Harford High School, there would be five teams in the gym.

"We are the oldest travel teams, and we had to share with 9-, 10-, 11- and 12-year-olds," he said.

The team was limited to half the gym for practices, and wouldn't have enough practice time because it had to share with other teams, said Joshua Wiegand, 13, of Whiteford.

"I couldn't warm up and I couldn't do as well in practice," Wiegand said.

Wiegand sees many benefits to the new facility. "I think it will give people more room to play games and make it easier to travel to."

Joe Becker, coach of the Norrisville 13- to-14-year-old boys and North Harford traveling boys basketball teams, said compared with what the team had in the past, this is the Taj Mahal.

The new building is double the size of the Norrisville Elementary School's gym, and everything is state-of-the-art, he said. "We were really playing in a cafeteria," Becker said.

Becker said that so far, the building has been open and flexible to give his teams access to the facility.

"A facility you can use when the kids are not in school is a big asset," he said.

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