New Sil­ver Spring Li­brary opens as a gath­er­ing spot

Fa­cil­ity that houses books and dig­i­tal re­sources touted as a ‘com­mu­nity fo­cal point’

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY BILL TURQUE AND EL­IZ­A­BETH KOH

Four­teen-year-old Ou­mou Diop lost her old book hang­out when the Borders in down­town Sil­ver Spring closed in 2011. She’s been through her col­lec­tion at home many times.

“I’m look­ing for­ward to some­thing new to read,” Diop said as she waited Satur­day with her mother and sis­ter for the doors of the new Sil­ver Spring Li­brary to open.

About 500 peo­ple turned out for a first look at the strik­ing five-story, $64 mil­lion work of can­tilevered glass and stone that juts out over the cor­ner of Fenton Street and Wayne Av­enue like the bow of a ship.

For li­brary lovers, Satur­day’s rib­bon cut­ting was a procla­ma­tion of re­cov­ery — from the re­ces­sion-era spend­ing cuts that plagued sys­tems in Mont­gomery County and across the coun­try. County lead­ers hope that the new build­ing, lo­cated in the ur­ban core of a rapidly di­ver­si­fy­ing Mary­land sub­urb, will be a gate­way of op­por­tu­nity for the low-in­come and im­mi­grant com­mu­ni­ties mixed among en­claves of as­ton­ish­ing wealth.

It was built to strad­dle the dig­i­tal and print ages, em­brac­ing the for­mer with­out for­sak­ing the lat­ter. All the 21st-cen­tury stuff is there: charg­ing sta­tions, media labs, 3-D print­ers and an Ap­ple Store-style tech bar where staff will of­fer help and lend iPads. But there are also 100,000 print vol­umes, of­fi­cials say, twice the num­ber avail­able at the old Sil­ver Spring li­brary on Colesville Road, which closed in March af­ter 58 years. Com­mu­nity mem­bers made it clear they were not ready to give up on books.

“They wanted tra­di­tion mixed with the fu­ture,” Mont­gomery li­brary di­rec­tor Parker

Hamil­ton said.

Like cafes and parks, li­braries have be­come an es­sen­tial “third place,” that spot away from home and work where peo­ple can meet, do busi­ness or sim­ply take the lonely edge off of mod­ern life.

The new fa­cil­ity is filled with for­mal con­fer­ence rooms and ca­sual gath­er­ing spa­ces. The first two floors have been set aside for use by to-be-de­ter­mined non­profit and com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions.

“It’s not just a place to come check out a book. It’s a com­mu­nity fo­cal point,” said Mont­gomery gen­eral ser­vices di­rec­tor David Dise, the lead of­fi­cial on all ma­jor county con­struc­tion jobs. He calls the build­ing “iconic.”

The story of the li­brary is a much hap­pier one for Dise to dis­cuss than his other big pro­ject just a few blocks up Wayne Av­enue, where the Sil­ver Spring Transit Cen­ter is fi­nally lurch­ing to­ward com­ple­tion, four years late and tens of mil­lions of dol­lars over bud­get.

Long-run­ning trans­porta­tion is­sues also linger around the li­brary, which was de­signed to ac­com­mo­date the pro­posed Pur­ple Line light rail link­ing Bethesda and New Car­rroll­ton. One of the two planned Sil­ver Spring sta­tions would run di­rectly past the li­brary’s main en­trance, through a plaza lo­cated be­hind the dra­matic glass fa­cade on Fenton Street. Much of the build­ing’s ba­sic de­sign was pred­i­cated on ac­com­mo­dat­ing the rail line, ac­cord­ing to ar­chi­tect Bill Evans of the Luk­mire Part­ner­ship.

Mary­land Gov. Larry Ho­gan (R) is sup­posed to de­cide whether to shelve the pro­ject by the end of this month. For it to sur­vive, he says, the $2.4 bil­lion price tag must come down.

For the mo­ment, the plaza is dec­o­rated with or­na­men­tal rocks and wooden path­ways. Mark­ings show where the east­bound and west­bound tracks would run.

With or with­out the light rail, “this can re­main a nice plaza,” Dise said.

Satur­day’s open­ing re­flects a bet­ter day for public li­brary sys­tems in the re­gion and around the coun­try, many of which took deep cuts dur­ing the re­ces­sion. Fund­ing has “sta­bi­lized,” ac­cord­ing to the fed­eral In­sti­tute of Mu­se­ums and Li­brary Ser­vices, which sup­ports and mon­i­tors li­brary agen­cies.

Mont­gomery’s 21-branch sys­tem had bud­gets cut by nearly one-third from 2009 to 2012, re­sult­ing in win­nowed staff, smaller col­lec­tions and fewer hours. But last year, newly ren­o­vated li­braries in Ol­ney and Gaithers­burg came back on line. The depart­ment’s $40.2 mil­lion ap­pro­pri­a­tion for the fis­cal year that be­gins July 1 is just about back to pre-re­ces­sion lev­els.

In the Dis­trict, li­brary spend­ing has also surged, with plans for new or ren­o­vated fa­cil­i­ties in Cleve­land Park, the West End and Woodridge in the pipeline, along with a re­made Martin Luther King Jr. Me­mo­rial Li­brary down­town. Spend­ing in Fair­fax and Prince Ge­orge’s coun­ties re­mains stag­nant.

Mont­gomery elected of­fi­cials took turns of­fer­ing their tes­ti­mo­ni­als. County Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Ge­orge L. Leven­thal (D-At Large) said it was “the re­sult of gov­ern- ment work­ing to­gether and get­ting things done.” Coun­cil mem­ber Nancy Floreen (D-At Large) called it a “great day for the county.” State Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Mont­gomery), a can­di­date for Congress in the 8th Dis­trict, pro­claimed it the “most beau­ti­ful li­brary in the world.”

Pa­trons stream­ing through the main Fenton Street en­trance came to an es­ca­la­tor pav­il­ion and Kefa Cafe, a small out­post of the pop­u­lar Boni­fant Street cof­fee shop.

The three li­brary floors are in­dus­trial-mod­ern in terms of decor, with lots of ex­posed duct­work, raw con­crete and floor-to­ceil­ing win­dows. The third-floor en­try area has a help desk, au­to­mated self-check­out ma­chines and an area with tech­nol­ogy for dis­abled users. The fourth floor houses most of the adult fic­tion and non­fic­tion, along with a pe­ri­od­i­cals read­ing room.

The top floor is for kids, with an ac­tiv­ity room and an ear­ly­child­hood learn­ing cen­ter. When in­spec­tors raised con­cerns that young­sters might bump their heads on ex­posed struc­tural beams that run ceil­ing to floor, work­ers padded them with a mul­ti­col­ored ar­ray of pool noo­dles.

Amy Kalfus, push­ing her daugh­ter, Emma, 3, and son, Ryan, 1, in a bright red stroller out­side, said she is drawn to the li­brary by child­hood mem­o­ries of her own fam­ily’s weekly vis­its.

“It was part of our week­end rou­tine, and I look for­ward to con­tin­u­ing that with my kids,” she said.

Of­fi­cials said the li­brary is also open to down­town Sil­ver Spring’s small but om­nipresent home­less pop­u­la­tion, which fre­quented the old Colesville Road build­ing. The sub­ject turned into an awk­ward ex­change dur­ing a tour of the li­brary Fri­day morn­ing for mem­bers of news or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Dise said the ex­te­rior plaza would be “rou­tinely pa­trolled and mon­i­tored” by red-shirted county em­ploy­ees who walk the down­town streets and garages, as­sist­ing visi­tors and mak­ing sure that the area is clean and safe. He also said that con­struc­tion work­ers had in­stalled bright lights in the al­ley­way be­hind the li­brary “so it is not a place for peo­ple to hang out.”

Af­ter Dise added that the county would break ground in Au­gust on Progress Place, a new and larger Sil­ver Spring home­less fa­cil­ity that he de­scribed as “very needed,” li­brary di­rec­tor Hamil­ton jumped in to re­as­sure re­porters that the li­brary would be open to the home­less, just as it would be to other pa­trons.

PHOTOS BY BRIT­TANY GREE­SON/THE WASHINGTON POST

At top, Christo­pher Wil­liams, 55, of Sil­ver Spring, and his daugh­ter Brack­linn Wil­liams, 12, read books at the Sil­ver Spring Li­brary. Above, pa­trons pe­ruse the books on the fourth floor.

PHOTOS BY BRIT­TANY GREE­SON/THE WASHINGTON POST

At top, the new Sil­ver Spring Li­brary is a strik­ing five-story, $64 mil­lion work of can­tilevered glass and stone. Above, Adults and chil­dren pe­ruse the fifth-floor chil­dren’s area of the li­brary. The space has lots of ex­posed duct­work, raw con­crete and floor-to-ceil­ing win­dows.

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