NEW CARROLLTON — Construction on several Prince George’s County Memorial Library System (PGCMLS) libraries projects, totaling at least $64 million, has been delayed due to lack of sufficient funding.
The New Carrollton branch closed for construction in December 2015 and is projected to reopen in September.
The Hyattsville branch closed in April 2017 and was moved to a temporary location nearby although construction on the library has yet to begin. The Bladensburg and Surratts Clinton branches are in the works, but the projects do not have a start date.
The Office of Central Services is responsible for managing the architectural design for all political buildings in the county including police and fire stations, office buildings and libraries. To start a construction project, they must go through a lengthy process of designing the building, obtaining a permit, getting funding and selecting a contractor.
“The funding comes through a budgetary process called the Capital Improvement budget,” said Deputy Director of Central Services Floyd Holt. “Those are a part of the county’s budgeting cycle.”
In this case, they have to wait for an election where the public will vote on whether they want the county to borrow the money for a bond to fund an additional project, Holt said. If the county takes out a bond, they must also factor into the budget paying it back with interest.
Construction on the New Carrollton, Hyattsville and Bladensburg branches will cost the county at least $64 million, Holt said. A new library like Hyattsville can cost about $29 million. Since they kept the exterior of the New Carrollton library and only built the interior, it costs about $15 million. Bladensburg, which will be smaller, can cost about $20 million.
Scott Peterson, deputy manager of communications to the county executive, said that based on the fiscal year 2019 budget, the Hyattsville and Surratts Clinton branches are expected to be completed in 2020 and Bladensburg in 2023.
“The incoming administration and county council will have the final say on the timing and funding of these projects,” he said. “The county will continue to have to monitor the county’s total Capital Improvement Program (CIP) to ensure that it aligns with its debt affordability limits. Secondly, future economies will determine the timing of these projects as well.”
In addition to funding, other delays can include construction issues such as the quality of the soil the building was originally on and delays in material supply as well as lengthy processes that come with finding a contractor, changing the construction order and electrical, structural and mechanical inspections which could delay construction up to 15 months.
According to Holt, the Office of Central Services has had trouble trying to find a contractor to work on the new Hyattsville building. At the early stages of a construction project, the office issues a request for an architect and could end up with up to 10 to 15 contractors competing for the spot.
At this point, the office is negotiating with the final five contractors for the Hyattsville branch and will hopefully begin construction soon after.
Meanwhile, the Bladensburg branch is still being designed and must then go through a review process which can take six months. According to PGCMLS Chief Operating Officer Michael Gannon, it was supposed to start this year, but funding was pushed back two years.
The three libraries currently in the works are all within less than 10 miles of each other. Instead of spacing them out around the county, PGCMLS went with these libraries because they are in an area where development and population are growing and the county wants to continue to build up the area.
“The western part of the county is really growing with new Americans and immigrants. Also because that’s where the county development began with and that’s where they put the libraries so now it’s time to have them replaced or renovate the ones built so long ago,” Gannon said.
Despite this, the people that are in the library on a daily basis are the ones who ultimately feel the fallout of such a long delay in construction.
The library staff at the Hyattsville branch does not know when the construction is supposed to start or how long they will be at the temporary location. Regulars like Bryana Rowley who come to the library often think the space they are currently in is “smaller than usual.”
Earl Foote, a College Park resident, also comes to the library frequently and said that while he enjoys the selection of books, the temporary library isn’t satisfactory.
“It’s not really sufficient,” he said. “It works temporarily, but it doesn’t have as much as it should.”
The idea to rebuild these libraries is not new. Construction for the Hyattsville branch has been in the CIP budget since 1988 while New Carrollton was put in during the late 90s.
“In the 1980s we probably could have renovated the library instead of having to get a new one, but it kept getting pushed back,” Gannon said. “The recession came; we were caught in economic issues, so it kept getting pushed back.
“Probably about five to six years ago the county decided that the existing library was just too old to renovate. It would have cost more money to renovate it than to build a new one.”
According to Peterson, various factors influence the timing of CIP projects, such as the county’s debt capacity to afford the county’s $3 billion CIP.
“Additional factors include the sequencing of new projects with those under construction to ensure adequate capacity to manage multiple library projects,” said Peterson. “With regard to Hyattsville, there was an extensive discussion with community stakeholders about the size, scope, and location of the project over several years before the current plan was agreed upon by the parties.”