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New branch will replace old library

BERLIN– After nearly a decade, plans are finally underway to build a new library.
In June, Worcester County purchased land on Harrison Avenue next to the Waystead Inn in Berlin for $430,000 with the intention of building a new branch of the Worcester Public Library.
Library Director Mark Thomas said he originally sent Worcester County a capital improvement plan in 2006. The county’s last new library, located in Ocean City, opened in 2008.
Preliminary staff work on the building program is underway.
“We’re hoping to go to the commission later this year to get a designer and an architect,” said Mark Thomas. “We expect the design process to take a good long while – certainly this calendar year and well into next year. Until we get into that it’s hard to say when the construction could begin because we haven’t even laid pencil to paper.”
Thomas said the design phase could take six to nine months, and hoped construction could begin in 2015.
“It’s always longer than people want it to be – including us,” he said. “You have to be realistic about it.”
The current Berlin library, built in 1970, has limited space and was among the oldest in the county.
“The library has been out of room for a long, long time,” Thomas said. “It’s by far our smallest library, but it’s a busy little branch and it had a good run of 44 years.”
The branch only has room for four public access computers and has no staff offices, staff workspace, or public or community meeting rooms.
“We have programs in there, but it’s right in the middle of the library so you either have to inconvenience everybody that’s using the library or use it in the times when the library is closed,” Thomas said. “There’s a lot going on both in traditional library services and data services and computer access and kid access – it’s a lot to cram into just over 3,000 square feet.”
Thomas said the library is determined to keep the new library as “friendly, welcoming and homey-feeling as we possibly can.”
“We’ve kind of outgrown the building, but it’s served the community very, very well and I know a lot of people have a real soft spot for it,” he said. “That’s part of our challenge and part of the challenge we’ll put to whatever architect we’ll work with.”
Berlin officials considered purchasing the land and the neighboring property, which together totaled eight acres, in 2009 for use as an environmental park. Berlin Mayor Gee Williams hoped environmental organizations could help pay for the eight-acre property. Williams envisioned the house on the property, currently the Waystead Inn, could become a headquarters for the organizations.
The house, circa 1835 and 1898, was formerly owned by James Dirickson, George Staton, Joseph Harrison, Fred Brueckmann and Mike Nally, who had wanted to have a 27-lot development there. When that became economically infeasible, he thought of selling the property to the town, but funds were not forthcoming and the town did not buy it.
Nally paid $275,000 for the 6.11 acre parcel in May 2003. According to online data, its assessed value is $81,200. He paid $350,000 for the adjoining 1.45-acre property and the historic house in August 2004 and sold it in July 2010 for $200,000.
Kate Patton, executive director of the Lower Shore Land Trust, and Dave Wilson, executive director of the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, declined to become directly involved in the purchase in 2009, although they both extended their support. Patton said her group could help in trying to get tax cuts or promote funding through Program Open Space, and Wilson offered to leverage state and federal funds for the project.
Williams envisioned walking trails and an art contest on the property. Patricia Dufendach of the town’s Parks Commission envisioned a demonstration farm and stormwater management practice. Michael Day, then the town’s part time Main Street coordinator and now its full-time Economic and Community Development director, suggested an environmental park could encourage visitors and economic development.