ASPEN HILL– On Saturday, July 15, the Aspen Hill Library reopened to the public after being closed since November for a “refresh” project intended to modernize the building’s facilities and expand its offerings. Area residents eagerly returned to the library to check out books and make use of its spaces, but an incident that occurred shortly after the re-opening has raised concerns with some of the branch’s advocates.
Late at night on June 18 or early in the morning of July 19, water flooded the library’s lower level. According to witness accounts, the water was ankle-deep in the library’s downstairs community room. Staff from the county Department of General Services (DGS) cleared the water on July 19. David Dise, Director of DGS, attributed the flooding to recent storm activity in the area.
“Last week’s storm dumped a considerable amount of rain in a very short time in the immediate area around the library,” Dise said. “The sudden volume of water backed up the storm sewer and caused the flooding in the library’s lower level. Thankfully, the situation was not severe. DGS staff responded promptly, effected a cleanup and performed some minor repairs. We are obtaining a contractor to run a camera through the sewer line to see if there is any obstruction in the line so as to prevent a future occurrence.”
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Elliot Chabot, chair of the Aspen Hill Library Advisory Committee, and his wife, Chris Swan, president of the Aspen Hill chapter of the Friends of Library, have long argued that the county government has not devoted the funds and attention necessary to ensure that the library meets the needs of the community, including the maintenance of the building, which has not been rebuilt since the library opened in 1967.
“We’re concerned that the refresh created new problems that didn’t exist previously,” Chabot said. “The sump pump has been working for years, but 3 days after the library re-opened it failed. It appears that our library refresh solved some problems and yet created others. The acoustics in the downstairs community room are far worse now than they were before the refresh. Curb cuts that provided easy access to the Library were removed during the refresh. Some aspects of the Library were certainly improved by the refresh, including the asbestos removal, repainting the walls, and rebuilding the bathrooms. But you shouldn’t have to take one step back for every 2 steps forward.”
“We desperately need more space, newer facilities,” Swan said in October, prior to the library’s closure. “The building itself has got major problems. It’s built on an underground spring, so there’s water constantly coming. There have been system problems with the heating, cooling, roof and retaining walls, and yet they’re not going to do that because they don’t have the money, because the library system and the County Executive changed their minds.”
Chabot and Swan both said that the library should be rebuilt as a larger building, as the Wheaton Library was.