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Community celebrates Washington Co. Free Library's next chapter

November 18, 2009|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN -- People who had a hand in a planned library renovation and expansion downtown got a hand on Wednesday.

Dozens of elected officials, business leaders, library staff and others gathered in front of Washington County Free Library to hear about and cheer for the library's future.

Under the $20 million project, the South Potomac Street building will be renovated and roughly double in size. A county report in May listed the current building at about 44,500 square feet and the expansion at about 47,500 square feet.

Library Director Mary Baykan said she expects ground to be broken around May 2010 and the work to take about 18 months to complete.

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"This is a great reflection of the amount of effort that everybody in the community puts into a project like this," House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, said at the ceremony.

Brien J. Poffenberger, president of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce, said the library project was a top priority three years running for a lobbying coalition of local governments and business organizations.

Baykan and other community leaders helped make things happen in Annapolis, said Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany.

"No one's more convincing than Mary Baykan," Busch said.

The state is paying $10 million of the project cost because the building houses a Western Maryland regional library.

The other half will come from the city, the county and a library endowment fund, according to Baykan.

The most recent state capital budget initially didn't have funding for the library, but Busch said he realized the project was important for Hagerstown.

He said he, Del. John P. Donoghue and Sen. Donald F. Munson helped get the money added.

Donoghue, D-Washington, said "split funding" -- half one year, half the next year -- ensured money for the library project and a new state police barrack, which was cut from previous budgets.

Munson, R-Washington, said state funding for the library started at $800,000, but grew to $10 million.

"I view this project as the linchpin of our community," particularly for local education, Washington County Commissioners President John F. Barr said.

Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said the library is probably the top downtown draw, making it an important economic cog.

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