One of several public meetings held last Friday sought to get feedback from Montgomery County Public Libraries and nearby residents on the feasibility of relocating the library, and what features the ideal library would have.
|Rita Gale (foreground) of MCPL|
discussed what the ideal new
Little Falls Library would be
Rita Gale, Public Service Administrator for Facilities and Capital Projects for MCPL, discussed potential floorplans and designs with planners Marc DeOcampo and John Marcolin. Gale said MCPL is on board for the idea of libraries as anchors of public squares, with the Rockville Memorial Library being the most notable existing example. How would a potential land swap and construction of the new facility occur? It would likely be a public-private partnership between MCPL, Equity One and Montgomery County Public Schools, should the current library site become a school site.
Gale explained that the library system utilizes 3 year strategic plans. She mentioned that MCPL recently shifted from complete renovations of libraries every 20-30 years to mini-renovations every 7 years. The reason for the shift was the inability to keep up with technological changes on a 20-year calendar. If the relocation were to go forward, the existing library would remain in operation until the new building was ready to move into.
What would that new building be like, ideally? 23,000 square feet on a single floor, said Gale. Why a single floor? Staffing one floor is far less expensive than multiple floors. Meeting space would preferably be on a separate level, as that does not require the same level of monitoring by employees, Gale said. The existing Little Falls Library is far smaller at 10,000 SF, while the Rockville Library is 63,000 SF by comparison. Having the library at street level would also be important, as is free parking for patrons. I have to say that paid parking at the new Equity One development on Westbard would be a non-starter.
In regards to the second options planners have outlined - adding an addition to the existing library - Gale said that would require removal of several mature trees, and "generally taking down trees is not something that's appealing to folks. Of course, if the site becomes a school, those trees would come down anyway. Neither clearcutting sounds like a good idea at a corner of Bethesda known for its forested surroundings.
Residents who have spoken to the potential library relocation seem to be cautiously favorable in their opinion about it. One detractor at the meeting said a library would be a terrible choice for what is being touted as a vibrant public space. He argued the new library would be a "dead space in the evening. Leave the library where it is. [Relocating it] makes no sense to me whatsoever." He noted that a similar library upcounty, which has residential units facing it, has become a hangout for drug dealers after hours, and a magnet for crime in general. DeCampo said Equity One would likely take steps to secure the site, particularly with residents living in close proximity to it.
I thought the man did have a valid point, as - assuming the library operates on the typically-limited MCPL hours - the space around it could become a dead zone after 6:00 PM. Banks are another notorious vibrancy killer in urban settings. It would seem that other more active tenants would have to be located close to the library in order to prevent that from happening. Having said that, I don't think anyone expects the Equity One "town center" to be a noisy city that never sleeps. This is a bedroom community in the suburbs, not a true urban area, and should tone down the volume at night anyway.
The other thing those comments brought to mind, is the need to recognize that public areas - of which there are currently none on Westbard Avenue - need policing, as well as upkeep such as that which Bethesda Urban Partnership provides downtown. That should be considered during the design phase, as security costs money, whether it is public or private.