Hancock factions debate keeping library in park or moving downtown

August 06, 2012|By DON AINES |
  • Replacement of War Memorial Library, currently in Widmeyer Park, is the subject of a public hearing Wednesday evening in Hancock.
Photo by Tim Rowland

HANCOCK — The Town of Hancock plans to replace War Memorial Library, but there is disagreement between factions as to whether it should be built near the existing library in Widmeyer Park or downtown along Main Street.

Chamber of Commerce President Penny Pittman leads a group that wants to see the library downtown, in part to encourage economic development.

Mayor Daniel Murphy says he and the town council support keeping the library in Widmeyer Park.

“We haven’t had a new business building on Main Street since 1988,” Pittman said last week. “By putting the library there, we can get rid of some of the aging buildings on Main Street using outside resources. It would start a revitalization process in the downtown.”

Murphy said one advantage of locating a new library in the park is the town could donate land as part of its contribution. Having the library remain within the park also would be convenient to users such as families, allowing some family members to swim or play in the park while others patronize the library, he said.

But acquiring the former Hendershot’s Sporting Goods building at 110 W. Main St., a house and the McCray Electric building for the library would take that land off the local and county property tax rolls, he said. And the cost of acquisition and demolition could be several hundred thousand dollars, he said, money that would be better spent building the library.

Pittman said she owns a parking lot, which could be part of the library property. However, the lot is not listed for sale and a property behind Hendershot’s could alternatively be acquired for parking, she said.

Previously, Pittman and her husband donated part of the lot to the Hancock Volunteer Fire Co., she said.

Murphy said he was invited to a meeting in early May with library officials and Chamber of Commerce representatives, at which the Main Street site was discussed, as were a former bank building and a closed restaurant.

Subsequently, the town suggested a library could share the town hall and community center, but library officials said it should be a separate building owned by the county, Murphy said.

A nine-member committee with representatives appointed by the town, chamber and library system held meetings in May and June, Pittman and Murphy said.

Murphy said he sent a “letter of dissatisfaction with the process” to Mary Baykan, director of the Washington County Free Library system and the library’s board of trustees. The council felt the site-selection process was weighted too heavily toward what library and chamber-appointed members favored, he said.

“It’s to serve the greater Hancock community,” Pittman said.

That includes about 4,500 people, 3,000 of whom live outside the town. She said the town will not the own the library.

The existing library opened in 1969. At 1,100 square feet, it is small, outdated and possibly has mold problems as a result of being flooded in 1985 and twice in 1995, Baykan said.

After the 1995 floods, the town, which owns the building, “literally jacked up the building and pulled it up the hill” to a higher point in the park, Baykan said.

The library system has taken no position on a site for the library, Baykan said.

The Washington County Free Library system’s board of trustees hosted a meeting Wednesday at the library seeking public input about facility and program needs for the project. Approximately 70 people attended, Baykan said.

“There was a strong sentiment that people want it to remain in the park,” Baykan said in describing the meeting. There were also advocates for building downtown, she said.

The feasibility study for the library recommends an 8,000-square-foot building with 32 parking spaces, Pittman said.

Funding for the project, which would cost in the neighborhood of $3 million, would be from a combination of state and county grants, and a capital campaign by the community, said Art Callaham, president of the board of trustees. That capital campaign could include contributions from the town, he said.

That would be similar to how libraries were funded in Boonsboro, Smithsburg and Clear Spring, Callaham said.

If and when it is built, the building would belong to the county, Baykan said. Its contents — the books, computers, furnishings and other equipment — would belong to the library system, which would also employ the staff, she said.

Site selection for the library will be the subject of a public hearing at Wednesday’s meeting of the town council, Murphy said. The council meeting begins at 7 p.m.

If you go ...
What: Public hearing on site of new Hancock library
When: Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Where: Town Hall Community Center, 126 W. High St., Hancock

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