HYATTSVILLE – Ellen Houseknecht starting tearing up as she took pictures of the iconic Hyattsville Branch Library saucer on the building’s last day of operation. She said the branch’s closure for demolition took her by surprise and she wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye to, what she called, the “historic building.” “I’m sad. I’m going […]
HYATTSVILLE – Ellen Houseknecht starting tearing up as she took pictures of the iconic Hyattsville Branch Library saucer on the building’s last day of operation.
She said the branch’s closure for demolition took her by surprise and she wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye to, what she called, the “historic building.”
“I’m sad. I’m going to go home and look it up for details,” Houseknecht said. “I’m going to miss this.”
The doors of Hyattsville’s library were closed at 6 p.m. March 31 for the last time before the building is demolished and rebuilt. The library building has been on the Prince George’s County Memorial Library System’s (PGCMLS) capital improvements program schedule since the 1980s and at this point would cost more to gut and renovate than demolish and rebuild, said PGCMLS Chief Operating Officer Michael Gannon.
“The original library was built in 1964 and we’ve had it in the capital improvements program since 1986,” he said. “Back in 1986, they thought they could just renovate the existing building, but of course now that we’re in the 2000s, it’s just too old. It doesn’t work anymore.”
But the library holds a special place in the hearts of numerous residents of Hyattsville and beyond. In fact, Gannon said Hyattsville is one of the busiest branches in the whole PGCMLS system.
Houseknecht lives in Silver Spring, but still makes the trek to the “world within walking distance” to fulfill her library needs. She did the same when she lived in Greenbelt. Hyattsville has always been her favorite library.
“I’ve been coming here as long as I can remember, really,” she said. “I’ve lived in Maryland since around 2000. I moved to Silver Spring, but I still come (to this library) because I still like this one the best.”
On the library’s last day open to the public, dozens of residents, families and patrons visited the building to walk its square white-tiled and black-carpeted rooms, finger through the empty shelves and take photos of their kids outside the building.
A pair of men walked through the branch’s front door, camera in hand, to document their travel through the last day of the building as a few moms stopped their children to take pictures under the saucer.
However, while the library is now closed to the public, Gannon said there is still work to be done before the walls come tumbling down. The library system’s facilities staff is located onsite as well, and they need to be moved to a warehouse space.
Once the building is completely vacated, the county will scour the remains for anything of value or that can be recycled. As of now, Gannon said there is no contract signed or approved for the demolition or construction of the library building, but did say once the papers are signed and permits completed, demolition is close behind.
As soon as residents see the fences go up and demolition start to happen, Gannon said the community can expect the library construction to take two years to complete.
“It is almost out of permitting and once they have the building permit, the county can go out and get a contractor,” he said. “I’m looking at maybe fall 2019 (for a grand opening).”
Gannon hopes the new building will serve the community and PGCMLS employees better. He noted the sustainable standards the new building will live up to, with a green roof and “plenty of windows” to take advantage of natural sunlight – something that will boost morale, he said.
“We’re putting solar panels on the roof and we’re also putting a vegetative roof there as well,” he said. “We could have never done that on the old building because the roof would have never taken that load.”
In addition, the new library will feature a vending machine café, a fireplace, a new “discovery center” for children based on classic children’s novels, multiple and larger meeting areas, study rooms, an improved county history collection, a reading terrace and more computers.
Another big factor in choosing to build an entirely new building is the changing use of libraries, Gannon said. When the Hyattsville Branch was built, the wall outlets were placed with an eye for the use of a vacuum cleaner or checkout technology.
Now, patrons want places to plug in their phones and laptops to work and find little options.
“Being built in the 1960’s, it only had electrical outlets on the wall for, like, a vacuum,” Gannon said. “What we’re doing in the new library is: everywhere you sit, there will be an outlet. You’ll be able to plug in.”
The saucer that makes the current building iconic is not going anywhere, as it will be incorporated into public art grounds of the library and will be part of a public green space garden and outdoor reading space.
“The people really felt a lot of affection for the saucer. They felt that it was really a part of the community and we heard them loud and clear,” Gannon said.
The library system will also commission a piece of public art to accompany the saucer, such as a mosaic underneath.
And library resources are not going away in Hyattsville for the projected two-year-long reconstruction process. A new temporary site will open in the University Town Center at 6502 America Boulevard – less than half a mile away from the library site.
“We’re going to be doing everything that we did in the old building, except we will not have a meeting room. So they’ll be doing story times, we’ll have the same hours, and we took over all the popular materials and they’re still going to be getting new books everyday,” Gannon said. “We’re hoping that it won’t be that hard of a transition.”
Hyattsville resident Jamie Lettis said she is glad PGCMLS is providing a temporary location.
“I think it will be really nice to have somewhere to go that’s nearby in the meantime,” she said. “I think we’d really miss not having a library close by.”
Like Houseknecht, she is sad to see the library close, but she said she sees the need for the new building and new amenities.
“We’re really excited to have something new,” she said. “I think this building is cool, but I do feel it is also tired and a lot of the amenities that the new libraries have that this one does not will be worth it.”
In other parts of the county, library projects are making headway. Gannon said the Bowie Branch is making great progress, is ahead of schedule and is set to reopen in June after completed renovations.
The New Carrollton Branch, after much delay, is seeing progress as well. That branch is in the first stages of renovation and is completed gutted as of now. The library is anticipated to reopen in May 2018.
“We had planned that when one closed for renovation, another one would open, but with the way contracting goes, with the way contractors are and how things work, we’ve kind of fallen into this unfortunate situation where we have more libraries closed than we ever thought we would,” Gannon said.