SILVER SPRING -- Hundreds of residents welcomed a new building into their midst Saturday morning with the grand opening of the new Silver Spring Library.
The 63,000-square-foot library, on the corner of Fenton Street and Wayne Avenue in downtown Silver Spring, has almost double the number of print volumes of the old location – 9,000 – along with new self-checkout technology and the second Mac lab at a county building. The project cost about $69.5 million overall, and the library construction cost was about $35 million, according to Department of General Services Director David Dise.
Elected officials from throughout the county hailed the new library as one of the best in the nation. Council member George Leventhal (D-At large) called it a “symbol of a literate city.”
County Executive Ike Leggett said the county designed the library for the community and hopes the community will use it.“It would not be a success unless you use the library as intended,” Leggett said.
In designing the library, the county held four community meetings to talk about what people wanted in the new library, which is replacing the old location on Colesville Road.
Becky Reeve, president of the Silver Spring chapter of Friends of the Library, said the design and amenities of the library are everything she had desired.
“We’re just totally delighted…(We’ve been) advocating for over 15 years to get a library that would meet the huge exploding and diverse community of Silver Spring,” she said. “And it’s Wi-Fi-ready throughout and technologically so up-to-date, it’s just delightful.”
The new Silver Spring branch follows the reopening of the Olney and Gaithersburg libraries last year. The county is now looking toward a new library and recreation center in Wheaton. Kathlin Smith, who was on the library advisory committee and belongs to Friends of the Library, said the new library has something for everyone and can appeal to the broader community since it is close to public transportation.
“The county’s commitment to this library makes a very strong statement about our values as a county, and I’m really happy to be in a county that values the library,” she added.
The library occupies the top three floors of the building, while the bottom two will be used for nonprofit space. The county is reviewing proposals for that space now and expects to have occupants in place in about a year. The first floor also features a satellite location of Kefa Cafe, a staple of the Silver Spring community that has its main location on Bonifant Street.
“(The community) wanted traditional with the future, and we were challenged to do that for them. Very diverse community, very diverse needs, ideas of what a library represents,” said Parker Hamilton, director of Montgomery County Public Libraries.
Dise and Rita Gale, public services administrator for MCPL, said they tried to design the library with technology and community gathering spaces as well as traditional stacks. There will be iPads and laptops that patrons can check out for use within the library as well as reading areas and tables by the windows on each floor.
Reeve said she sees a lot of different types of groups using the library.
“Before we only had, well, two meeting rooms that were not in great shape and (the new) space is incredibly flexible. It can be used with a lot of media groups and pop up groups and things like that,” she said.
The fifth floor, which is for kids, incorporates an early literacy center as well with alphabet games and other interactive sites. Friends of the Library raised more than $100,000 in donations and grants to fund the center, according to Reeve.
The center will be useful for Chris Richardson, a member of the advisory committee, and his young daughter. He said his 9-year-old has also been saving up for a Kindle and hopefully will take advantage of the electronic and print books at the library.
“I’m really excited about how the building’s embrace of digital technology will bring in a whole new crowd,” he said.
The design also had to accommodate a future Purple Line stop along the Fenton side of the library, which is currently a “rustic” area with rocks and wooden benches to sit on until the Purple Line gets built there, according to Dise. At the opening, Leggett took a picture and send he would send it to Governor Larry Hogan to show how much the community wants the Purple Line.
Patrons can return books through an outdoor drop box along what is informally called “Library Lane,” a narrow street that curves between Wayne Avenue and Bonifant, along with outdoor lockers for people to pick up materials they placed on hold. Gale said the exit will be right-turn-only onto Wayne Avenue to try to prevent drivers from going straight through to the parking lot across the street.
Parking during weekdays is not free in the parking lot across the street, and the library does not plan to validate parking. The old library site had free parking for library patrons.
Dise said they tried to make the side over the future Purple Line site more of a gateway than a wall for the Fenton Village community it faces. Dise said the community overall seemed pleased with the exterior design of the beginning.
“This general shape and situation on the lot – this is actually an assemblage of smaller parcels here. We went to the community with, when you go with them you’re sort of doing a massing diagram of just blocks and sort of figures just to show here’s the lot, and people started to see the shape and they went, ‘Oh, we like that,’” he said.
Escalators lead from the ground floor up to the third-floor library entrance, which makes the library the only county building currently with escalators, in addition to the grand staircase and elevators. All patrons have to go through the third-floor library entrance before going to the upper floors for security reasons, according to Gale.
The library will also have an accessibility center with technology for those who are deaf or who have impaired vision or other disabilities.
County officials are still deciding how to use the old library space on Colesville Road. A number of citizens have supported the plan to turn it into a recreation center to complement the park next door.