April 12, 2003

Public officials, civic leaders and a few hundred residents turned out for a community celebration marking the opening of the Brandywine Hundred branch of the New Castle County Library system. For many it was the culmination of many years of anticipation and involvement in the area's most significant public works project.

Jim Conrad, who has been involved with the Friends of Concord Pike Library since soon after he retired from the Du Pont Co., traces its gestation back 17 years. For him, the facility is something of an $11.6 million testimonial to the power of suggestion.

It was in 1986 that Drew Doorey bemoaned the fact that he could not find a place in the crowded library in Talleyville to sit and read to his daughters, Kelsey. 2, and Jenni, 1. Rather than merely listen to his gripe and let it pass, his wife, Nancy, decided to do something about it. Into the library's

suggestion box she dropped a note which said, in effect, let's see if we can't get a bigger place.

"When I read that, I phoned her and asked her to be president of the Friends," he recalled. In that capacity, she joined with Conrad and others to get the ball rolling. Several studies followed, there was considerable public discussion, but it generally is agreed that Conrad kept it rolling and picked up many supporters along the way.

The Friends organization -- which has, naturally, changed its name to Friends of the Brandywine Hundred Library -- conducted the not-yet-finished fund raising campaign to come up with the $3 million

Jim Conrad (facing the camera) chats with Jane Ibost, one of the library's long-time boosters; Richard Goode, site superintendent for Wilson Construction; and Laura Campbell before opening day ceremonies.

private-sector share of the cost to build and stock the new facility.

Kelsey Doorey is now a senior about to graduate from Brandywine High School and her sister is a year behind her at Concord High. Nancy Doorey is vice president of the Brandywine Board of Education. At the event of Apr. 11, she pronounced the effort a success, not only because it has produced a state-of-the-art information palace -- specifically designed to, among other things, foster story reading -- but also a community place. "It's more than a library; it's a hub for Brandywine Hundred," she said.

Several speakers who preceded the traditional ceremonial ribbon cutting hailed Conrad as the focal point for community involvement in bringing about the library. When his turn came, Conrad characteristically announced that there was plenty of credit to pass around and plenty of people to whom to pass it.

"The important thing is we're here. It has been a long trail getting here, [but] it's not any more just a dream," he said.

County Executive Tom Gordon suggested it would be a good idea to move the speeches along as quickly as possible to assure that Conrad, who is 78, fulfilled his often-stated ambition to still be alive to witness the parting of the ribbon. Gordon expressed the feelings of many in the audience who were happy that he made it with time to spare.

One of the early movers and shakers on the project, however, did not. "Of all the dreams that Phil and I had together, the one at the top of his list was to build a library on this very spot where we are today," said Philip Cloutier's widow, state Senator Cathy Cloutier. "I know that he's up there watching us."

The library site in Talley-Day Park off Foulk Road has been designated the Cloutier Complex in memory of the late civic activist, state representative and County Council president.

His current successor in the latter office, Christopher Coons, called the library "the ultimate search engine."

Councilman Robert Weiner, who referred to Cloutier as his mentor, said Cloutier would have been well pleased with the outcome of his early efforts. "What a great idea it is to have a library in a park. It is our community center; it is out hangout," Weiner said.

Gordon recalled that bringing the project to fruition was not a trip down a smooth road. The location, the design, the placement, the financing, the timetable and other details all were matters of considerable public controversy at the time they were open questions, he noted.

The final result, however, is one that will be appreciated by countains not yet born. "The thirst for knowledge in our community is fabulous. ... We're leading the way in the information age rather than trying to catch up or letting it pass us b," he said.

"This doesn't look like a library. We've made it a lot nicer than anybody out there selling books," he added. Taking a cue from some large commercial book chains, one of the features of the facility is a snack and refreshment area and places where patrons can sit and read -- either out of doors or before one of two working fireplaces.

Congressman Michael Castle said that, as a youth he "was never enthusiastic about going [to a library, but today kids were pushing by me to get in."

Lieutenant Governor John Carney referred to the new library as "a great example of how we in Delaware can get things done when we work together."

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