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Potomac Library Renovation Delayed

Renovation of 21-year-old building pushed back from 2005 recommendation.

The Potomac Library was due for a renovation in 2005, 20 years after it was built. Financial constraints postponed the project, which will take place some time after 2012.

The proposed budget for fiscal years 2007-2012 includes $558,000 for a design study for the library in 2012. Construction — at a projected cost of about $11.6 million — is not included in the budget.

“If you look strictly at the timeline, we were actually supposed to have been closed in 2005 and reopened in 2006,” said Nancy Benner, agency manager for the Potomac Library.

“The difficult part is that everything wears out,” she continued. “You can imagine having carpet in a building that’s open to the public, where thousands are walking over it every week and it’s 20 years old. This carpet’s been replaced once since opening. Furniture wears out, and the bathrooms are badly in need of renovation.”

Barbara Norland, public services administrator for the county, acknowledged that the 2012 planning for the renovation is “way out there.”

“We’ve got some of the design money, but no construction,” she said. “That would presumably happen the following year [in 2013].”

Councilmember Howard Denis (R-1) has worked as a volunteer at the Bethesda Library and helped secure additional funding to keep its renovation on schedule in the Capital Improvement Program [CIP] four years ago. He was disappointed that the Potomac Library renovation could not occur sooner but pleased that preliminary plans have made their way into the budget.

Construction on the library “is out there at least five years,” he said, “but once it’s in [the CIP] it gets a life of its own and starts moving forward. … In Potomac if the renovations aren’t done in a timely manner, I’ll do my very best to make sure they are.

“Having a good library is extremely important for a community – it’s right up there as a top-tier service along with having good schools and good parks,” continued Denis. “I think that a good library helps to define a neighborhood, and it’s important that once they’re built that they be maintained.”

THE POTOMAC LIBRARY is the sixth-busiest in the county, based on its circulation per square foot. Located off of Glenolden Road near the intersection of Falls Road and River Road, the Potomac Library hosts 300,000 visits and circulates 500,000 items per year. Circulation at the Potomac Library is growing at a faster rate than at most of the 20 other libraries in the county.

“It definitely has gotten a lot busier and … we noticed that we’ve increased our numbers of families with small children and school-age children using the library,” said Benner. “We’ve noticed that we need more seating space and we need to have our design improved so that we can accommodate more people.”

The county typically doesn’t build an addition to a library during renovation, but an exception is planned for the Potomac Library, which is relatively small at its current 17,000 square feet. The design study will consider a 3,240 square foot addition.

“We’re hoping to expand and bump out a little bit along Falls Road,” said Benner. “We’re requesting a little bump-out addition to expand our children’s area.”

“It’s a busy library,” said Norland. “That’s a very small piece of property it’s on. We’re very limited with setbacks and the amount of property we have with how much we can expand that library. We’ll just make it work efficiently and effectively.”

Denis said that the Potomac Library is usually busy when he stops by.

“The space is used, almost every inch of it…” he said. “It’s a very popular destination for kids and parents on Saturday morning and [has] a constant coming and going.”

The full interior renovation will include HVAC replacement, replacement of the building front and windows, and other updates to bring the library into modern building and energy code standards. In addition, there will be walkway improvements for pedestrian safety, as well as stormwater management improvements.

The library will be closed for about one year during the renovation. During that time, Potomac residents can visit the nearby Davis, Bethesda, Little Falls and Rockville Libraries.

Numerous other county libraries are in the pipeline for construction and renovation projects. Renovations will take place at the Davis, Gaithersburg, Olney and Wheaton Libraries. In addition, new libraries are being constructed in Clarksburg and Silver Spring to serve the growing populations there.