Wheaton Library will stay, exec says
Surprise decision sides with grass-roots organization
The Wheaton Library has been saved.
Although County Executive Isiah Leggett had considered moving the library from its location at Georgia and Arcola avenues to a spot downtown, he sent a memo Monday to members of the "Save the Wheaton Library'' committee stating he has no intention of moving the library.
"Having received a wealth of feedback pro and con and having reviewed the factors above, I believe the County and the community will be best served by leaving the Wheaton library right where it is," he wrote in the memo, saying he based his decision on the high cost of building a new library and the strong resident opposition to moving the old one.
Residents who devoted the past year to contentious debates, protests, petitions, packed community meetings and the ubiquitous yellow lawn signs felt vindicated.
"We were all shocked," said Jeff Gates, an active member of the "Save the Wheaton Library" movement and a resident of the Wheaton Regional Park neighborhood, about the surprise announcement. "It caught us pleasantly unaware."
An outside group of consultants suggested in a July 2008 report that moving the library downtown would anchor a Wheaton town center and spur growth. They recommended moving it to Parking Lot 13, which sits at the corner of Grandview Avenue and Reedie Drive.
County planners embraced the proposal, pointing to the recently developed Rockville Town Center, which they said is successfully anchored by its sparkling new library.
But the concept garnered fervent opposition from residents who said the library works just fine where it is.
"Looking at Wheaton from that cookie-cutter point of view is not the best way to deal with that," Gates said. "Do you want to create a series of identical Rockvilles all over the county?"
On Tuesday, planners reacted positively to Leggett's decision.
"What we need to have in downtown is some kind of cultural facility or community facilityit doesn't have to be a library," said Gary Stith, who works closely with Wheaton planners on redevelopment ideas as the deputy director of the county's Department of General Services.
Library administrators also welcomed the decision, saying the building as it stands is overdue for improvement.
County officials allotted funds for maintenance in this fiscal year's Capital Improvements Program, which should hold up the building until the county can fund a full-scale renovation, said Rita Gale, public services administrator for facilities and strategic management and planning for the county's library department.