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Changes in library don't cut services

The Baltimore Sun

In 2004, Howard County Library contracted with Providence Associates Inc. to develop and present the Howard County Library Facilities Assessment and Master Plan: Facilities and Services, 2005-2030. Providence convened focus groups to assess community needs and desires, which were incorporated into the Program of Requirements (POR) for an 82,500 square feet Charles E. Miller Branch and Historical Center to replace the existing 23,500 square feet branch.

Two years later, the county purchased 10 acres of land for our most pressing project: the new Miller Branch. Design and engineering are under way, and next year, pending the County Council's approval of the County Executive's proposed FY 09 Capital Budget, construction will begin, albeit on a revised project. As frequently occurs with building projects, changed circumstances have resulted in necessary adjustments to the original POR.

What were the changed circumstances?

First and foremost, the economy. Demonstrating fiscal responsibility in a tighter economic climate was of utmost importance as the Howard County Library Board of Trustees weighed the merits of various options to keep the Miller project on track while competing with other capital project requests to the county.

Secondly, following a community-wide charrette process, the County Government and General Growth Properties Inc. indicated strong support for a new or greatly expanded Central Library as part of the educational and cultural downtown vision. Had this opportunity presented itself four years back, the Master Plan would have reflected a larger Central Library, and the original POR would have reflected the current POR.

The Board of Trustees discussed these new circumstances at its public meetings, which resulted in the Board's unanimous approval of an adjusted POR, resulting in a 63,000 sq. ft. building -- nearly three times the size of the current facility, twice the size of our Glenwood Branch, and larger than our 50,000 sq. ft. Central Library. The adjustments reduced a $35.8 million project to $28.9 million.

All adjustments have left intact the essential services outlined in the original POR. In no way has the capacity for materials, computers, study space and meeting rooms been diminished; the collection area will be the same size as in the original POR.

Areas that have been reduced are staff workroom spaces and the lobby entry area, which included art exhibition space. While a small auditorium has been eliminated, the new Miller Branch will have more than three times the meeting room space of any other branch.

The new branch will be a state-of-the-art facility designed to meet the educational needs of everyone in the greater Ellicott City area and will be a destination for all Howard County residents. Thanks to an envisioned partnership with the Howard County Historical Society, students and researchers will benefit from a wealth of historical and genealogical resources.

We are pleased that County Executive Ken Ulman has included $7.7 million in his proposed fiscal 2009 capital budget for phase one of construction, with the balance of the project funding allocated for fiscal 2010. We are also pleased to be receiving nearly half a million dollars from the state in fiscal 2009 toward construction. Beginning construction in fiscal 2009 means that we can schedule the ribbon-cutting ceremony in 2011.

Charles J. Broida

The writer is chair of the Howard County Library Board of Trustees

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