Library Hosts Public Info Session For New Pocomoke Facility

Library Hosts Public Info Session For New Pocomoke Facility
Community members attended a public information session regaridng a new Pocomoke library Monday. Photo by Bethany Hooper

POCOMOKE – Community members gathered at the Pocomoke library this week to learn more about a new facility that is being proposed on the former armory site.

On Monday, officials with the Worcester County Library held an information session to give community members a chance to see design concepts for a new branch in downtown Pocomoke. Library Director Jennifer Ranck said the project could begin as soon as this year.

“If everything goes according to plan, we could have shovels in the ground this fall,” she said.

As proposed, the new library would be constructed on a parcel of land currently occupied by the old armory and other neighboring buildings. Once the structures are demolished, a 13,000-square-foot facility will be built.

Designer Jeff Schoellkopf said the new library includes plans for children’s and young adult areas, meeting rooms, a small maker’s space and a large community room, which can be accessed during and after library hours. While a second floor would house mechanical equipment, he noted that all programs would be placed on one story.

“The library staff and trustees asked us to try and do this on one story,” he explained. “I think in Berlin, the two stories work really well, but it takes additional staffing.”

He added that the facility would also feature a children’s porch and enclosed yard.

“Please see all of this as a pretty well-developed concept, but not something that’s ready to be built next week …,” he said. “We have generalized plans for all of these things.”

When asked about computer space within the library, Schoellkopf noted there would be computers in the children’s, young adults, and adult sections, but that there would be less than what is currently found at the Pocomoke branch.

“There’s a lot of people using laptops now,” he said, “so the seating is designed to have outlets and there is WiFi throughout.”

Ranck noted that the library is projected to cost $9,325,000, though the governor’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2024 includes $2.2 million for the project. The remaining $7 million, she said, would be paid for by the county, fundraising campaigns and potential Maryland State Public Library Capital Grant Program funding.

“The program allows us to apply for up to 50% of the cost of the project …,” she explained. When the Ocean City library was built, the local contribution was $6.3 million. And when the Berlin library was built, the local contribution was $4.8 million. So 10 years later, and we’re paying $1.5 million less for that new Berlin library, and I think we can do that for Pocomoke as well.”

Pocomoke resident Monda Marsh said she thought a new library would benefit the community but questioned the town’s role in its development.

“What is the bottom line?” she said. “What will Pocomoke contribute to this?”

City Manager Jeremy Mason said the town  would be donating the land on which the library would be built. Officials noted the city had purchased the site for roughly $130,000 and had received a $300,000 loan from the county to demolish the old buildings.

“What we have to do is demolish all of it,” he explained. “We have multiple bids from different companies and we are zeroing in on that.”

City Councilman Todd Nock said his biggest concern was the $300,000 loan the city would use to clean up the site.

“I believe it’s going to be a great project if it comes to fruition,” he said. “I just have an issue with the fact that we are taking a $300,000 interest-free loan from the county, only to tear those buildings down and turn the property over to them.”

One resident, however, argued the project was a good investment.

“Anybody that would turn down an investment of $300,000 to $500,000 to get $9 million back is crazy,” he said. “That will give Pocomoke a jump start where we are being left behind in the dust with these other towns … It’s a no-brainer.”

Worcester County Commissioner Diana Purnell noted the library would spur economic development in town.

“Pocomoke sits as a jewel in Worcester County …,” she said. “You have to figure out a way to stop people when they come through, so they can come to your town. The library is one of the first things you can do.”

Others agreed.

““This serves the children in this community in the huge way …,” one resident said. “This space serves our community. We build it, and they will come.”

Several community members said they liked plans for the new library but argued they would rather see the town prioritize other issues, such as water quality and infrastructure.

“This library becomes an oasis surrounded by a bunch of things that aren’t done …,” one resident said. “I want to see improvements for the general population and for them to be things that are most needed.”

Commissioner Chip Bertino pointed out that projects involving water, sidewalks and other infrastructure were the responsibility of the town. He noted the library project was a county-funded project.

“You are talking about water and sewer and sidewalks and lamp posts,” he said. “That is not part of the county’s responsibility.”

Bertino also offered his observations on the city’s management.

Bertino speaks

Worcester County Commissioner Chip Bertino speaks at Monday’s public information session.

“This town is broken,” he said. “Until recently, there has been absolutely no planning for the past 40 years to handle infrastructure, to pay for water and sewer lines, and that is not the responsibility of the county. That is the responsibility of your town council who has skin in the game. I mean no disrespect to the elected officials down here because I think that they are doing the best they can, but it also takes a group effort, an engaged community and accountability.”

He continued, “We recognize there is an opportunity here in Pocomoke City that has for too long been ignored. And for way too long, quite truthfully, your own elected officials, your own community has not stepped up to the plate and done what is necessary. The county is doing what it can.”

Nock noted that concerns shared by residents were issues the city council was working to address. He encouraged community to get involved.

“If we don’t see you, we don’t hear from you,” he said. “So come out and talk to us and understand this council is working hard.”

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

Alternative Text

Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.