When Jim Conrad retired 18 years ago after 35 years as a chemical engineer and product manager with the Du Pont Co., he little suspected that a rather casual invitation to join a community organization would lead to what has become virtually a second, albeit volunteer, career. Now he is on the verge of realizing the principal goal in his involvement with the Friends of Concord Pike Library.

Around mid-October or so, New Castle County will take possession of the building which will house the Brandywine Hundred branch of its library system from Wohlsen Construction Co.. There are still a pair of significant loose ends to tie up, but no longer any doubt that the state-of-the-art facility will be ready to open its doors to the public in the early spring of 2003, probably in April.

As project director for the Friends organization, Conrad, who will turn 78 about the time it happens, naturally regards completion of the structure as the significant milestone. "All that's left to do now is [to] stock it and raise the rest of the money," he said in classic understatement.

The county has budgeted $800,000 to pay for new materials -- books, electronic media and other items -- to supplement what will be moved from the Concord Pike Library at Talleyville, which the facility in Talley-Day Park off Foulk Road will replace. "Tom Weaver's staff over there has already begun the process of weeding out their collection," Conrad said.

The Friends fund-raising drive, he said, is about $400,000 to $500,000 shy of raising the $3 million voluntary-contribution community share of the $11.6 million it cost to build the new library. Laying the  first 1,214 bricks inscribed with donors' names will be the among the last construction tasks. Actually, there will be 4,000 bricks in the 'Colonnade of Freedom"; the uninscribed ones will be replaceable as later donations are received, he said.

On a tour of the nearly completed building, Conrad said the library will be everything that was promised during a long gestation.

The new library was a long time coming -- considering that the study and report which led to a turnaround in the status of library in the county came out in the early 1990s. "Over the years, Delaware hadn't spent money that was needed on its libraries," he said, adding that was surprising in view of the general level of education in the state, particularly in the northern county.

"In the last 10 years, we have made progress," he said. However, there is still a ways to go. The state, he said, ranks 51st, behind all the other states and the District of Columbia, in per capita spending on library staffs.

The flip side of that, he said, is that the administration of County Executive Tom Gordon appears firmly committed to both the Brandywine Hundred library and libraries in general. He cites the addition of nine additional people  over the present staff of the Concord Pike Library, which the new one replaces. Also, he said, the new one will be open seven days a week instead of the six during which the other branches operate.

Although no longer designated the Northern Regional Library, the Brandywine Hundred branch will likely be the hub of an interconnected system, he said. Farther down the pike, it will serve as a model for another large library in the fast-growing southern part of the county.

DELAFORUM PHOTO TOUR

The nearly completed Brandywine Hundred branch library will provide patrons with a spacious, comfortable place to read or research. Taking a cue from major book sellers, the facility will include a coffee shop and homey features like fireplaces for winter and porch rocking chairs in summer.

   

Jim Conrad, of the Friends of Concord Pike Library leads a tour of the 150 feet-long main 'stacks' area. Note the fireplace at the far end and the study rooms along the opposite wall. The building also contains a large meeting room which will be available for use by community organizations.

   

A worker completes preparation of the floor for the laying of carpet in most parts of the building. For the most part that, along with acoustical tiles, have replaced 'sushing' librarians as the principal way to maintain appropriate sound levels.

   

Signature feature of the new library will be the 'Colonnade of Freedom' along its north wall. The 10 steel pillars encased in hand-laid stone represent the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The portico formed by the colonnade will be an outdoor reading and relaxing area when weather permits. This view is through one of the large glass windows which make up most of the building wall on that side.

   
Posted on September 30, 2002

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