Councilwoman and constituents at odds over Waverly library renovations

Posing for a photo at the Waverly Library before a February 2008 community charrette to brainstorm ways of improving the branch is Ann Marie Lalmansingh, the branch manager. Five years later, plans to renovate the branch are still being debated.
Posing for a photo at the Waverly Library before a February 2008 community charrette to brainstorm ways of improving the branch is Ann Marie Lalmansingh, the branch manager. Five years later, plans to renovate the branch are still being debated. (File photo)

A year ago, residents and their city councilwoman were in agreement that the city needed to go "back to the drawing board" on plans to renovate the Waverly Library.

But now, as the city prepares to break ground on the $3 million project later this year, some residents are demanding the library be razed and rebuilt, while Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke says renovation needs to go forward as planned.


Residents of Oakenshawe, Abell and Charles Village, who use the local library, say they're still unclear exactly what the project entails and whether any of their concerns from last year have been addressed, including the lack of a sizable community meeting room. Six residents have formed a committee, to get more information and fight for a better project — preferably by razing the 1971, brick-and-cement structure, and building a new library in its place.

"The solution is demolition," said Sandy Sparks, of Charles Village. She said the one-level building at the intersection of University Parkway, Barclay Street and 33rd Street is showing its age and inadequacy for today's needs. She favors a two-story building with an elevator.


"The library is just in deplorable condition," said Mark Counselman, co-president of the Oakenshawe Improvement Association, who dismissed the city's current plans as "lipstick on a pig."

"There's an opportunity to do something really transformational," Counselman said. "Is the renovation worth it to go forward, or is it half-assed? Maybe we need to figure out how to find $5 million and build a decent library."

Clarke said she dislikes the plans as much as she ever did and that the building as renovated would still look like "a fort."

But she thinks it's a bad idea to go back to square one, because residents spent nearly five years convincing the city to renovate the library, which she said is the best used in the city.

"I have no confidence that if we take that building down, that we would ever have a branch library in Waverly again," she said.

The new committee held its first meeting at Sparks' house Saturday, Jan. 19, almost a year to the day after a contentious public meeting at the library, in which residents complained bitterly about the plans and Clarke told a team of design architects, "We need to go back to the drawing board."

"This bothers me no end. I want to fight for a new library," Sparks told the six people who gathered around her dining room table. No one from Waverly attended, although Sparks said two people were invited.

Sparks said even $4 million would help and that the city should hold off on renovation while residents pursue additional funding for a new building, possibly including approaching Johns Hopkins University and seeking grants.

At the time of the Jan. 18, 2012 public meeting, many residents complained that the project, in the planning since 2008, still did not include amenities that residents wanted. Those included a community meeting room that would seat at least 150 people, a green roof, a sun porch along the west side of the library at Barclay and 33rd, and relocation of the main entrance from busy 33rd Street, where a traffic circle is proposed, to Barclay Street, which is a gateway to Oakenshawe.

Plans were only 30 percent complete at that time, and Stephanie Schaefer, of Buchart Horn Architects, the city's design architect for the project, told the audience she was limited by a $3 million budget.

Now, plans are 90 percent complete, and "We hope to get to 100 percent in the next month," said Martin Courtney, a spokesman for the city's Department of General Services.

Roswell Encina, a spokesman for the Enoch Pratt Free Library system, gave a similar timetable for the project.

Current plans call for expanded reading rooms as well as a glass facade that would wrap around the building. The plans do not call for a sun porch, a green roof or a new main entrance, Courtney said.

The envisioned community room, currently a multi-purpose room, would remain in its current spot in the building, and a stage in the room would be removed to free up space, he said.

Courtney would not say what the budget is now for the project or confirm the $3 million figure. He said the city hopes to put the project out for bids in March, assuming it passes muster with Baltimore City's Urban Design and Architectural Review Panel and the Board of Estimates.

UDARP has already given schematic approval and has signaled that it would give final approval if area residents give their blessing to "final finishes," such as the choice of materials and furniture, said Katie-Rose Imbriano, north and northeast district planner for the city Department of Planning.

But in a report last year, UDARP acknowledged, "There was a great difference in opinion between the community and the Enoch Pratt Library as to the general direction" of the project.

"We certainly support rehabilitation of public libraries," Imbriano said. She said the planning department's role is to facilitate communication between residents and the city and that General Services promised last year to take residents' concerns into account.

"Have we been consulted? No," Kathleen Henderson, of Oakenshawe, a member of the new committee and of the group Friends of the Waverly Library, said Saturday.

Imbriano said the community room would seat roughly 80 people after the renovation, which committee members on Saturday said is overstating the capacity from what they have seen of the plans, and isn't enough capacity in any case.

Imbriano said she understands concerns about needing a bigger community room. But she said although it's an important accessory use, it's not the main purpose of the library.

She also said there's no way to expand the building, because it is surrounded by streets on all sides and fills its lot.

"You would have to take away from shelf space," she said.

Henderson disagreed with that assessment, too, arguing there is plenty of square footage to expand the west side of the library, where the community room is now, toward the sidewalk on Barclay Street.

"We definitely need a community meeting space that seats at least 150 people," Sparks said. "Church halls are not the answer."

But Clarke, who did not attend the meeting Saturday, said if nothing else, the Waverly branch would be a better resource for children after the renovations.

"We must have the library," she said. "The library is really about what's inside."