We are working to build a place for you in the NEW Downtown Columbia
“Valued by our customers as educational necessities and vibrant community hubs, our libraries are places to learn, connect, and engage through notable author talks, community conversations, book discussions, classes for all ages, enlightening events, and more. The new flagship Downtown Columbia Branch, the largest in our system, will enable HCLS to expand our STEAM education focus, better meet customer demand for additional classes, and enhance business and workforce development offerings, adding to the thriving downtown scene. We eagerly anticipate the opportunities this new space will present not only for new Merriweather District residents but for all Howard County residents and visitors.”
Tonya Aikens, HCLS President & CEO
As one of the nation’s leading library systems and among Howard County’s most valued institutions, Howard County Library System is poised to position its new Downtown Columbia Branch as the cornerstone of the Merriweather District, bringing its award-winning curriculum and events to the new location.
HCLS is consistently ranked a 5-Star library by Library Journal and remains the only system in Maryland to achieve this prestigious designation. Historical and current trends continue to demonstrate how much those who live, work and play in Howard County value and use HCLS’ self-directed educational materials, and fill its classes and events to capacity.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
- Why is the new Downtown Columbia Branch needed now?
The existing branch is undersized to serve the current population, is further constrained by the addition of new housing units, and is slated for demolition as part of the Downtown Columbia plan.
- When was the Central Branch most recently renovated and how much was spent?
The Central Branch first opened in 1981 and was renovated in 2000–2001. Minor interior alterations were completed in 2016 at a cost of $1.8M. Due to the pending development of the Merriweather District, renovations were minimal and addressed structural, end-of-life, interim fixes and enhancements to address customer needs (e.g., new paint, new carpet), and transformed space formerly used by administrative staff into public space.
- How long has this new Downtown Columbia Branch been planned?
Howard County’s Downtown Columbia Plan (adopted in 2010 and updated in 2018) recommended that a new Central branch be built in Columbia’s new Downtown. In 2019, HCLS engaged G4 Architecture, Research, and Planning, Inc. to update its Master Plan, which calls for a new 100,000 SF Downtown Columbia Branch to meet the increased number of new residents and visitors and to meet the Maryland State minimum library guidelines of one SF per capita.
- Why is a 100,000 SF library needed?
The current Central Branch is not large enough to accommodate existing customers. At completion of the redevelopment plans, downtown Columbia will feature 1.25 million SF of retail space, 4.3 million SF office/conference space, 640 hotel rooms, and 6,244 market-rate and affordable housing units. These new residential units will expand Howard County’s population by a minimum of 15 percent. In addition, the Central Branch serves the entire county through its Project Literacy program, Art Education Collection, Equity Resource Center, Business and Foundation Center, and Health Collection.
- What is the proposed timeline for this project?
FY23: Begin design
FY24: Continue design, and begin permits and pre-construction services
FY25: Start construction
FY26: Complete construction
- What is the cost for the new branch?
The estimated cost is $82.8M. The request for FY23 is $1.7M for planning, community engagement, and design.
- What is the cost for additional staffing?
There is no additional staffing cost. Existing Central Branch staff will be relocated to the new Downtown Columbia Branch.
EXISTING BRANCH CONSTRAINTS
- The existing Central branch is undersized for the existing population and does not meet Maryland State minimum library guidelines of one SF per capita for library systems.
- Significant population growth downtown will increase demand on the branch and exacerbate existing constraints.
- Classroom space: Central branch has three small community rooms, which combined total 1870 SF (50 percent less than other comparable branches). These spaces are forced to do triple duty as instructional spaces for teens, instructional spaces for adults, and spaces for community meetings and engagement, resulting in deep customer waitlists and classes left unscheduled. For reference, East Columbia, Elkridge and Miller offer 3,715, 4,496, and 5,712 SF respectively.
- Teen Space: Central Branch has no designated space for teen engagement and collaboration. A small space, made possible by moving book stacks to create 150 SF in a back corner, is neither welcoming nor inviting to teens and is 81 percent smaller than the smallest teen space in other branches. For reference, East Columbia, Elkridge and Miller offer 2,134, 1,192, and 1,632 SF respectively.
- Parking: Space needs extend to the exterior. With just 130 parking spaces, the current location is constrained in its ability to meet community demand. Opened in 1981, the parking lot was constructed to accommodate a population of 124,746, which is 38 percent of Howard County’s current population. The lack of adequate parking has been an issue since 1981 and continues to constrain the number and types of classes and events that can be held at the Central Branch resulting in service inequities for customers. For reference, East Columbia, Elkridge and Miller offer 375, 166, and 234 (400 including the Ellicott City Senior Center and HCLS Administrative Branch spaces) parking spaces respectively.
- The vision for Columbia is of a walkable community where people can live, work, learn, and play (Downtown Columbia Redevelopment Monitoring Report, 2018).
- At completion, downtown Columbia will feature 1.25 million SF of retail space, 4.3 million SF office/conference space, 640 hotel rooms, and 6,244 residential units.These new residential units will expand Columbia’s population by a minimum of 15 percent.
- Envisioned as a regional destination for culture and commerce as well as a vital and vibrant residential community hub, the new Downtown Columbia Branch will anchor the Merriweather District.
- The new branch will enable HCLS to expand its curriculum to not only meet current needs but also emerging trends.
- The new Downtown Columbia Branch will be co-located with a mixed-income residential apartment building, operated by the Howard County Housing Commission. It will be situated at one end of Color Burst Park and connect to an existing trailhead, bridging the natural landscape and new cultural center of Howard County.
- Estimated branch size: 100,000 SF
- Estimated budget: $82.8 million
- Construction timeframe: 24 to 36 months
- Developer: Enterprise Community Development
- General contractors: Costello Construction and Harkins Builders
- Architect: Grimm + Parker