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Problems with Aspen Hill Library persist

ASPEN HILL — The Aspen Hill Library closed in November 2016 for a “refresh” project designed to modernize the building’s facilities. Staff members were temporarily assigned to other branches during the closure. The remodeling included an expanded children’s area, new carpeting and flooring, and improved Wi-Fi connectivity.

The library reopened to the public on July 15 last year. Three months later, staff and area residents celebrated the 50th anniversary of the branch’s initial opening.

Nearly a year after the reopening, some of the branch’s advocates say that, while the refresh did provide needed updates, other problems have persisted and perhaps were even exacerbated by the process.

Elliot Chabot, chair of the Aspen Hill Library Advisory Committee and his wife, Chris Swan, president of the Aspen Hill chapter of Friends of the Library, have long argued that the branch’s facilities are inadequate to meet the needs of the community it serves and called for greater investment on the part of the County government.

“Here they’re going to be spending $800,000, while in Wheaton, they’ll be spending $65 million on a completely new library,” Chabot had said before the closure. “In the time this library has been standing, Wheaton will have been rebuilt twice, and yet we still have essentially what we had in 1967.”

Chabot noted that the projected population of Aspen Hill in the year 2000 – at the time of the library’s construction – was 30,000 people, but, in actuality, it was twice that.

Chabot and Swan cited the redesign of the library’s parking lot as a chief complaint about the redesign. The library previously had a wheelchair ramp leading directly from the front door to the parking lot. During the refresh, this was replaced by curb cuts with two ramps, one leading to the street and the other to the edge of the parking lot, which they said is less convenient for patrons who use wheelchairs or otherwise require assistance to walk.

“It’s a slap in the face to the community to come here and take away accessibility to the building, and then argue that the Americans With Disabilities Act compels them to make the building less accessible,” Chabot said.

Three days after the library reopened, the lower level was flooded. According to witness accounts, water was ankle-deep in the downstairs community room.  At the time, David Dise, Director of the County’s Department of General Services, attributed the incident to recent heavy storms in the area. 

“Last week’s storm dumped a considerable amount of rain in a very short time in the immediate area around the library,” Dise said. “The sudden volume of water backed up the storm sewer and caused the flooding in the library’s lower level. Thankfully, the situation was not severe. DGS staff responded promptly, effected a cleanup, and performed some minor repairs.”

Chabot said that the new curb cuts may have contributed to the flooding by allowing water to flow more easily into the basement of the building.

“The access to the community room and the curb cuts are ADA compliant, which means it complies with federal guidelines to ensure that facilities are accessible to people with disabilities,” said Judy Stiles, a Montgomery County Public Information Officer. “There now is an accessible path of travel from the street and the parking to the building. Corrective measures were implemented to mitigate flooding events which, based on the most-recent heavy rains events, have proven effective.”

Swan identified as her biggest complaint the reduction in size of the branch’s collection during the refresh.

“When the library staff returned and went to the shelves, there were about 5,000 volumes missing from the time that they left,” Swan said. “The staff were heartbroken. They almost quit. They could not believe the condition of the stacks when they came in. The books are slowly being added.”

“The science-fiction section used to have two whole ranges,” Chabot added. “Now we have about a half a range.”

@petersrouleau

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