ELKTON — The design for new North East Branch Library presented Tuesday morning is the culmination of dreams and plans throughout the years, and so far that dream is falling within its budget.
The planned North East Branch Library, budgeted at $18 million, will have collections of books for all ages, a sound booth area, a digital media lab, and separate spaces for children and teenagers on the second floor, including an early learning center.
More importantly, there would be enough space to serve the 30,000 people in the surrounding region. The planned library will be around 43,000 square feet, with the first and second floor combined, and 10,000 square-foot wing for CCPL’s operational headquarters that supports all seven branches and the system’s bookmobile.
The new library will be 15 times larger than the existing library that stands off Main Street at 2,800 square feet.
The lack of space was something that came up frequently in the surveys or community outreach events conducted by architects Jeff Hoover, of Tappé Architects, and Charles Wray, of Quinn Evans, who designed the library. Around 250 people of all ages participated in the outreach events and 357 people were surveyed.
“It’s not rocket science to determine (a lack of space) with a quick glance at the facility, but the most interesting thing I think was that people want to see a variety of comfortable seating spaces,” Hoover told the Cecil County Council during Tuesday’s work session. “Having quiet places, space to use technology, teen space, study space, all those things are super important to the community.”
Both architects said they were also mindful about how to incorporate the character of North East while moving the library almost three-quarters a mile north to the North East Station shopping center. The hope is the library would be another anchor to the retail location, and possible pedestrian connections would pave the way for shoppers to easily navigate the parking lot to the library and vice-versa.
The entrance of the new North East Branch Library would face the shopping center’s parking lot at an angle, with the building oriented in a way to capitalize on natural light but to reduce glare. A drive-thru book drop-off would be on the west side of the building.
A small wetlands area in the rear of the library would serve as screening for traffic on the neighboring Route 272.
When patrons walk into the new North East Branch Library, they would immediately see a collection of new books, the audio/visual collection and the large staircase leading to the second floor. Further in is the adult area, including books, computers and and seating area with tables clustered together or chairs alone.
The business center, a key element in the community, is front and center in the first floor. To the left of the entrance would be a 100-person and classroom/lab space.
The second floor is devoted entirely for learning spaces and resources for the younger patrons of the library, including an early learning center, according to CCPL Executive Director Morgan Miller.
“It’s a place for families to come and engage in school readiness, to develop a lifelong love of reading and learning and to promote the parents as the child’s first teacher,” she said.
Early learning centers have been featured in libraries in Baltimore and Harford counties, but the new North East Branch Library plans include play structures that mirror town landmarks like the historic town hall and the Turkey Point Lighthouse. These structures would encourage children to use their imagination while playing with others and their parents, although the area surrounding the lighthouse would be partitioned to give babies a separate space from the toddlers.
The early learning center would also include four rooms for studying or homework help, a family computing center and an idea lab, with a reconfigurable wall for STEM learning for elementary school-age children.
On the opposite side of the second floor would be the teen area, complete with its own collection and computers, separate from the children and adult area to create a sense of privacy.
With the design finished, Miller said the next step is cost estimates and working with the county government. Mike Berardi, of Wohlsen Construction, explained that the design team recently priced a set of design development documents, which marks 70 percent completion of the documentation stage.
“We’re within the budget. We’re working very closely with everybody because you look at those nice pictures and there’s different materials that can be used and a different methodology, and that’s where we bring our expertise to the table,” Berardi said.
The $18 million price tag on the new library includes furnishings, although Miller added that the Friends Foundation of the Cecil County Public Library is fundraising to build the early learning center and buy the equipment and furniture for it.
The timeline for the new library is to start construction by late summer or early fall and complete construction within 15 months. Targeted completion is late 2020, with the library system moving its central offices from the Elkton to North East branches.
Miller told the council that the new library would be a complete “game changer” for the future, not just for the librarians that need the space for programs or storage, but for the entire county.
“We’ve made a lot of progress in the last year. The vision for a new North East Branch Library has been on the hearts and minds of its community a lot longer than that,” she said. “I’d like to thank this council for their support as well as former council members Joyce Bowlsbey and Dan Schneckenburger, County Executive Alan McCarthy as well as Mayor McKnight for helping to bring us to this moment.”
On Tuesday night, CCPL hosted an open house at the current North East Branch Library, including a meet-and-greet with the architects and a presentation of plans for the new building.
The architects will also present the plans at the North East town meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 23, in the town hall meeting room.
North East resident James Brubaker felt the architects truly took the community’s wants and needs into consideration when designing the library.
“I think it took a lot of community input and I’m liking the look of it,” he said.
In addition to “just having a place where I can come and read,” Brubaker said he was looking forward to the sound booth area.
“I’ve been planning on starting [a podcast] with a friend or two. We’re talking about starting one for CecilCon,” he said.
Sharon Rosenberg said the architects designed a beautiful building, but that it’s not just a pretty face.
“It manages to be elegant and simple at the same time, functional and creative, which I think is a nice mix,” she said.
Rosenberg was particularly excited about the spaces for children, teens and families, including the play structures. She said one of the structures resembled the Upper Bay Museum, which used to be her uncle’s fish house.
“That’s really kind of exciting to see something that’s been there through my lifetime and has morphed from a real fish house to a museum and now it’s going to be represented in the library. That’s a nice little link.”
Rosenberg said the new library will help pave the way for current and future generations of library patrons as a place for learning and curiosity.
“It’s worth every penny and it will be for decades. You build for the future as well as the present,” she said.
Nikki Bigley, materials manager for the library system, was the branch manager at the North East library during the 1990s. She said seeing the transformation the library will be going through is awe-inspiring.
“I am so excited for the community. They love their libraries … I’m excited that they, as well as everyone in the county, will be able to enjoy this wonderful new building and all that it offers,” she said.
With the library’s new home in the shopping center, shoppers and library patrons will hopefully be one in the same, Wray said.
“We know that the library itself can be a strong anchor in a shopping center like this … It’s a real cool symbiotic kind of relationship that will exist,” he said.
Hoover has been designing libraries almost exclusively for more than 30 years. He said what draws him to these types of buildings is the meaning they hold for the communities they are planted in.
“It’s a building that a broad spectrum of the community can access and appreciate,” he said. “It’s architecture with a real permanence and meaning, and also architecture that has to reflect the identity of the community — not only who the community sees themselves as but who they aspire to become.”
Editor's note: This story originally incorrectly identified the representative of the contracted construction company for the library project. It is Mike Berardi, of Wohlsen Construction. It also mixed up the companies of the project's architects. Jeff Hoover works for Tappé Architects, while Charles Wray is with Quinn Evans Architects. We regret these errors.