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April 1,  2009

Site may have been found
for a new Claymont library

Residents advocating construction of a new public library in Claymont have expressed a strong preference for having it located in Darley Green.  

Anne Farley, general manager of the county Department of Community Services, said that Commonwealth Group, developer of the large mixed-uses community which has been known until now as Renaissance Village, has offered to donate land for a library. But she cautioned that that is not a firm commitment, but an oral offer to provide a site along the planned extension of Manor Avenue which is to be the entrance from Philadelphia Pike.

Farley also referred to the county administration's decision not to finance any capital projects already in its building program during the coming fiscal year.  In light of county government's fiscal situation the administration would less likely be amenable to adding any new projects to the list. "We're going through very tight times. ... We're cutting things, not adding them," she said.

Nevertheless, she called completion of a state-financed 'needs assessment' "a good first step" toward eventually reaching the Friends of the Claymont Library's goal of replacing the existing library in the Claymont Community Center building on Green Street. The present facility is and the proposed new one would be a branch of the county library system.

At a meeting held under the aegis of the Friends organization, Pamela Babuca, project manager for Studio Jaed, which conducted the assessment, said the new facility should contain about 15,000 square feet of floor space, more than double the 7,195 square feet in the present one.

James Nelson, Jaed's building program architect, said the new facility would cost $6.9 million. Calculated by using national averages, he said that figure includes construction costs but pointedly does not include site acquisition nor allow for likely escalation of building and other costs between now and the time the project gets under way.

The costs summary he presented allocated $125,000 in a line labeled library software, security, audio-visual, books and other media.

Bubuca said priorities for a new facility included community meeting space, computer workstations, energy-conservation features, noise control, security and "a park-like atmosphere."

Nelson said it would be "technologically advanced" and "in accordance with high-density development."

Farley said it would take at least five years for design and other preparatory work once a library is included in the county's capital program -- a step that could not occur for at least another year. Already in the program, she said, is a new library to replace the one in Middletown. She did not indicate whether that project would represent direct competition for county government financing.

Financing a new Claymont library, she said, would have to be a joint venture using state, county and private money from foundations and individuals. Money is tight in all those places now. The Longwood and Welfare Foundations, for example, are now making grants in the $5 million range, down from their 'normal' $14 million range.

Farley said Friends groups raised $1 million for the Woodlawn branch, $935,000 for the branch on Kirkwood Highway, and $900,000 for the one in Hockessin. She was not specific about how much the Claymont organization would have to raise to make that project viable if Nelson's cost estimate proved accurate.

In response to questions from attenders at the meeting, she discounted the likelihood of the federal economic stimulus package or possible future federal infusions into the economy providing any money for the project.

Farley said she would be personally opposed to requiring county residents to pay an annual fee to use libraries, as is done in some other jurisdictions. But she said out-of-state residents already pay $25 a year to use county libraries and that is proposed to be increased to $35 in the coming fiscal year. Both Claymont and Hockessin draw a measurable amount of patronage from nearby southeastern Pennsylvania.

Babuca said the "overwhelming preference" for a Darley Green location was based on a weighted scoring of several criteria evaluated by participants during a tour of possible sites in December. Darley Green scored highest in eight of 15categories, including three of the four highest-weighted ones. Since the tour, an original offer to have the library occupy the ground floor of a four-story condominium along Philadelphia Pike was changed to substitute a library for a planned 'community center' on Manor Avenue halfway between the pike and Green Street.

A somewhat distant runner-up was the now unused site of the former Childrens Home on Green Street, which is owned by the Catholic diocese. That, she said, had the disadvantage of including several buildings that would have to be torn down. Woodshaven-Kruse Park, which is a county park, scored highest in two categories, but drew objections from tour participants who favored "keeping the park as a park" The empty Holy Rosary school building and the historic Grubb mansion, which is also on the Holy Rosary campus, received consideration but did not score first in any of the categories.

Expanding the present facility "was removed from the list" after finding favor with no one on the tour, Babuca said.

Farley said 15 people took the tour. They were invited to do so from a list of civic activists and others deemed to be interested in the project supplied by the Claymont Friends. "We sent out a lot of invitations," she said. Most of the 19 attenders at the Mar. 31 meeting appeared to have taken the tour.

Although the meeting was billed as the occasion for presenting both a 'needs assessment' and a site analysis, neither the Jaed Power-Point presentation nor an 'executive summary' distributed at the conclusion of the meeting -- which was not materially different from the presentation -- contained any data illustrating a need for a new library.

Keelin Fry, treasurer of the Claymont Friends, told Delaforum after the meeting that the present facility "is clearly undersize for a community this big." He said it is deficient "in size, design and location."

Babuca was vague when asked after the meeting if the 'executive summary' was part of a more comprehensive report relating information such as current and projected patronage, circulation data and available amenities to the size of the present facility and the scope of services it provides. No such document was available at or referred to during the meeting. She did say such matters "had been covered" at a meeting held last November. She offered to send an electronic copy of notes from that meeting, but no such e.mail had been received before this article was prepared.

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