Interim Gaithersburg Library at Risk

Montgomery County Executive Isiah LeggettThe planned interim Gaithersburg Public Library set to open in November at Lakeforest Mall, could be eliminated to help balance the county’s budget in the face of a projected minimum $14.2 million-plus budget shortfall. The shortage would result if the referendum on the general election ballot to block implementation of the county’s Emergency Medical Services Transport Fee (EMST fee) passes on Election Day, November 2.

Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett’s October 5 memorandum to the Montgomery County Council, transmitting a “FY 11 Savings Plan” states, “I am proposing that these expenditure savings be made now, rather than waiting for later in the fiscal year, because the ballot question has already been certified, it will most likely succeed and the longer we wait to take action in this year, the more difficult it will be to find the savings to offset the loss of resources.”

“With the potential loss of the EMST fee, we are faced with a few clear choices: make significant and painful service reductions in the Fire and Rescue Services and other vital programs, increase taxes or reduce the county’s reserves to dangerously low levels.”

The majority of the revenue Leggett proposes to make up would come from cuts to fire and rescue services (about one in 10 county firefighters, most of them emergency medical service positions, would lose jobs).

The interim library is among “other vital programs.” Among other hits to the libraries, Leggett’s suggested cuts would eliminate Sunday service at all the libraries.

Montgomery County Public Information Director Patrick Lacefield said the county doesn’t want to make any of these cuts, but the need is to balance the budget.

The County Council will take no action on Leggett’s proposed savings plan unless the referendum to repeal the ambulance fee is approved by voters in the general election.

In mid-August, the county signed a lease with Simon Property Group — owners of Lakeforest Mall — for the interim library’s space on the mall’s second floor near Sears.

The Lakeforest space was delivered to the county on August 19.

Plans for the interim library call for 3,000 square feet, 16,000 volumes, limited seating, and computers only to access the library catalog and research databases. No wireless connection was planned.

Currently, both the Gaithersburg and the Olney Public Libraries are closed for repair and renovation.

The Gaithersburg interim library, if it opens, will be the first facility of its kind in the county.

“Olney Library is closed,” said a county government source. “There is no interim plan there, and that library has a huge circulation.”

Typically, when a library closes for repairs or renovation, patrons are directed to the nearest libraries in the system. For Gaithersburg users, the closest libraries are Germantown Regional and Quince Orchard Library.

Lacefield confirmed that plans for the rehabilitation of the permanent Gaithersburg library are on schedule. Those plans call for a $26 million renovation and expansion of the existing building on a 3-acre plot at the intersection of Christopher and Montgomery Village avenues. The building will expand from 36,814 square feet to 62,505 gross square feet.

Additional space will be added around the building’s perimeter, and a second floor will be added to the building.

The renovated library should open in two years or less.