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Staff photo by EMILY BARNESCharles County Public Library Director Emily Ferren presents an artist's rendering of the new Waldorf West Library during the groundbreaking ceremony for the "green" building.
Wednesday morning was the day Charles County chose to celebrate the first shovelful of dirt being turned for the $4.6 million Waldorf West Library.
For 3-year-old Charlotte Thon, it was time for an early birthday gift.
"There are some very avid readers in my house," Nathalie Thon, Charlotte's mother and a Dorchester neighbor, said of the new library branch. "Many times we're already at the P.D. Brown [Memorial Branch] library. This is going to be across the street.
"Charlotte is 3, but she'll be 4 on [Sept 6]. This is the best birthday present."
Mom and daughter braved the bright sun on the first day of September along with the county commissioners and library officials to celebrate the groundbreaking on what will eventually be the fourth library in the county.
"Charles County is meeting the needs of our library customers with this new library construction," said Emily Ferren, director of the Charles County Public Library. "Within these walls, the community will be engaged in lifelong learning, discovery will be encouraged, curiosity and creativity will be promoted, literacy will be valued and opportunities for change, growth and prosperity will abound."
The two-story public library will be located in O'Donnell Lake Restaurant Park in Waldorf. According to information from the county's planning and growth management department, construction of the 30,000-square-foot, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified building will begin in the fall, with tentative completion in two years.
"The whole interior is going to be based on a train station," Ferren said. "You'll walk in and there will be public access computers with a little train station roof. The roof on the inside will match the one on the outside.
"The children's section will look like you're walking onto a train and at the end of the stacks there will be [panels of] natural foliage and birds and trees native to the area. You'll know it's a Charles County library. These end panels will change as the seasons change."
Ferren said there will be an atrium when visitors walk in one of the two entrances, and there will be solar shades to help eliminate glare "no matter where you're sitting."
Acoustical banners will be installed to absorb sound and there will be a small park area built between the library and the neighboring Hilton Garden Inn.
"We did a survey of our customers, probably two or three years ago," Ferren said. "Mostly our customers were saying [they] want more programs, more space, a meeting room for people, tutoring rooms for after school and [they] want a program to be able to go on at [the] same time."
In answer to those requests, the library board made sure the blueprints included a meeting room capable of holding 300 people. There also will be a small stage for concerts and performances and a stroller parking lot in the foyer to help free up space during events.
"This is what all our partners have been telling us. They were saying if we had a space, a way to perform, you'd also want to make the acoustics as such. … There could be music in the meeting room and it wouldn't interfere with someone studying," Ferren said.
"Libraries are not only a place for books … but also a gathering place where people learn, discuss issues," said commissioners' Vice President Edith J. Patterson (D). "Community can take place."
"[The library] will belong to the community it serves," said Commissioner Gary V. Hodge (D). "We've got to keep investing in the future. We have a great future in front of us in Charles County."
For patrons on the run, there will be a drive-through book drop, and for those who decide to linger, the two-story design allows for leisurely reading with a view of the neighboring O'Donnell Lake.
As for being LEED certified, the library could meet the requirements for a silver level or maybe even gold, the second highest, Ferren said.
"We decided it was time to step up and do a green building," Ferren said. "Use materials that are durable, that last longer and that don't affect the environment — like the solar shading or the fact we're going to have two bus routes within walking distance and sidewalks. We're just making it really easy so not everyone has to have a car."
Ferren credited her design team for its work in drawing up the new library plans.
The library board first got the site approval in 2005 and between 2008 and summer 2009 there were the normal approval steps such as the land purchase, request for proposal notice and design process.
Though there are still at least two years before the Waldorf West Library opens, Ferren said she is preparing her library system to practically double in size when the doors do open.
"We have a written plan for how we incorporate and we are going to make changes so we're ready to be a medium system and not a small system. This is not just making Waldorf West Library relevant," Ferren said. "We've been able to renovate the three existing libraries through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation."
Through those grants there also have been new computers installed at the Capital Clubhouse, and the library system uses social networking tools like Twitter and Facebook to connect with the online community.
"I didn't want to just move forward with one new branch. You can't leave the others behind," Ferren said. "We've done outreach in the community through the post office, grocery stores and schools. We go out into the community to let people know the services we have. We feel like we are a fabric of our community."
In August, the county opened bids for the library's construction and Scheibel Construction — the firm also is building the new St. Charles High School — was awarded the contract later in the month.
"I had a budget of $10 million and [Jeffrey Morgan] would say, Here's three options for your price range,'" Ferren said. "That makes a lot of difference. That's why I'm not eliminating anything."
Morgan, a principal with Morgan Design Group — which specializes in architecture, interior design and landscape design — said normally a client will come to an architect with a program list of spaces and goals it would like to see done.
"This is not just a warehouse for books," Morgan said. "This will be a cultural center, a media center and a multi-use building."
The new library is also a welcome amenity for William B. Wade Elementary School, media specialist Heidi Furman said.
"I am so excited. I always promote the summer reading program and getting library cards," Furman said. "I used to have to explain that the closest library was across [U.S.] 301,' but now it's right up the street.'"
Later Wednesday morning the county commissioners celebrated the ceremonial ribbon cutting on two sidewalk projects that aim to provide better access to transit and increase pedestrian safety.
The $55,000 Smallwood Drive sidewalk improvements stretch 1,800 linear feet along Smallwood Drive's north side between the U.S. 301 park-and-ride lot and the O'Donnell Lake development area, where the Waldorf West Library will be built.
"I have an uncomfortable image of seeing young mothers attempting to maneuver [Smallwood Drive] with strollers in inclement weather," said Commissioner Reuben B. Collins II (D). "This project provides access to VanGO and the mall and speaks to the need of providing some type of sidewalk in that area."
The commissioners also cut ribbon on the sidewalk project that extends 1,500 linear feet between Western Parkway and Millbrook Court.
"There are kids and a lot of folks who go to work and a lot of residents enjoy going shopping [at the Waldorf Marketplace] without having to drive across the street," said Sherry Rahm of Community Resource Management, which manages the Millbrook community.