The Harrington Library could get a major expansion in the next few years: A new and much larger building, more books and more staff. It's a project that could cost more than $10 million.
The effort has been in the works for years but has faced delays, library Director Marleena Scott said Monday in an update for the Harrington City Council. The city covers most of the library’s operating costs each year.
The new library would be about 15,000 square feet, or about six times bigger than the current building at 110 E. Center St. That building is a former funeral home that later became a city hall/police station/library combo and is now just the library, Scott said. (The Harrington Journal newspaper also shared space in the building at one point.)
The proposed design includes meeting space that outside groups could use, or even City Council if the need arose, Scott suggested. It’s also designed to be safer and allow for more staff, private study rooms for students and teachers, a teen section and more parking, among other changes.
Scott pointed to everything the library brings to the community, from programs for kids to technology for adults and more. A new library would likely get more use, she said, and could even be a boost to area real estate. “If you can say we have a new state of the art library, that’s a big bonus.”
“Main Street is just down the road from that new library,” she said, “and it would hopefully bring more people into our area and more people to those local shops.”
The design is airy and spacious, with tall ceilings and large windows to let in light.
It’s also not cheap, with estimated costs running at about $10.7 million, although Scott said that may be a high estimate and includes operating costs for the first year to make sure they have enough.
“That’s a big scary number, I’m aware,” Scott said, but she pointed to a number of ways to cover the cost.
For the initial $10.7 million, the library hopes to get almost half from the state of Delaware, another $750,000 from Kent County, $2.5 million in federal COVID rescue funds and around $2.3 million from foundations, businesses and individual donations. The library also has a little over $200,000 left over from previous fundraising campaigns.
That last figure speaks to the long and drawn out efforts to bring a new library to town that have previously come up short.
Scott said there was an effort around 2000, then again around 2013, both of which fizzled. However, the library does still have the leftover money and has already purchased land next to the elementary school.
The current building has hardly any parking and about 2,500 square feet of usable space. For comparison, the Greenwood Library is a little over 10,000 square feet. Harrington’s population is more than twice that of Greenwood’s.
The Greenwood facility is one of a number around the state that has been renovated or built new in recent years, as noted in Delaware Libraries’ statewide master plan.
When it comes to building a new library for Harrington, there are actually two costs at play: One for the construction process, and another for the increased expenses that would come with a larger library and more staff.
Harrington spent about $127,000 on the library in its latest budget, and that’s a fairly typical number according to city Finance Director Amanda Marlow. Scott is suggesting an increase in that budget even without a new library building, up to a little over $200,000 in fiscal year 2024.
With increased costs with the new building, the library is projecting operating expenses of $400,000 to $450,000 a year.
To help pay for this increase, the library is considering asking for a library tax district for the area it serves, a move that would have to be approved by Kent County government. There’s a similar conversation going on for the Smyrna Library, Scott said.
As far as the amount of the tax, on a property valued around $40,000 it would come to something like $20 if they go with the 0.049 rate proposed in Smyrna, for example.
The area that might be affected by a library tax, the library’s service area, extends in a rough circle through rural areas around the city of Harrington, reaching up to Felton and down to Farmington.
Scott asked Harrington Council members for approval to look into fundraising options for the proposed library, and they unanimously gave it.
Mayor Duane Bivans called a new library a necessity, saying, “I think we’re on the right track.”
“It would be a great asset to add to this community, along with increasing the value of this community,” Council member Michael Kimmey said.
With a crowd of staunch library backers showing up, nearly every seat in the Council chambers was taken, unusual at a city meeting.
A couple of those weighed in during public comment.
“The social value that the library gives to the community cannot have a dollar price put on it,” resident Jeannette Fisler said.
One resident, Barbara Bullock, a regular at council meetings, said she was not opposed to the library but raised concerns about the city’s funding priorities, especially given its other needs like sewer infrastructure.
Council member Darrin Simpson agreed that water and sewer need to be priorities, and are priorities for the Council, but said in a city as old as Harrington they will always be an issue. He’s been living in the city for more than 50 years and remembers reading about infrastructure issues in the Harrington Journal from a young age, he said.
“The library is important because it does give you a quality of life,” he said. “... I’m excited to see us move forward with that.”