By Donald Wittkowski
Albert Einstein once famously said, “The only thing that you absolutely have to know is the location of the library.”
In Ocean City, the location of the public library is certainly no secret. About 4,500 people per week visit the building at 1735 Simpson Ave. during its peak use in the bustling summer tourism season.
Recognizing the library’s importance to the community, the second floor will undergo an extensive renovation to modernize the facility, improve the aesthetics and make it more user friendly, officials announced Monday during a public presentation on the project.
“We wanted to have the library remain relevant in the community,” explained Jennifer Shirk, president of the Ocean City Free Public Library’s board of trustees.
The library was built in 1990 and was expanded in 2008, but has not been renovated since then, officials said.
The makeover for the second floor will help the library keep pace with rapid innovations in technology and also reflects changes in the way the building’s interior space is used as a community learning center.
“Libraries have had to evolve and stay vivid and active in their communities,” said Karen Mahar, the library director.
One of the major parts of the renovation project is the creation of more “quiet space” for tutoring and intense study sessions. There will also be a larger area to accommodate “young adults.”
The plan also calls for more “maker space,” including computers, a 3D printer and audio and video equipment, to let would-be innovators create their own projects. The additional maker space reflects the growing trend among the “do-it-yourself movement,” Shirk said.
Better lighting is the final piece of the project to both brighten up the second floor and improve the aesthetics. Mahar noted that the lighting is currently “very poor” in some parts of the building.
Final designs are being tweaked by the library’s architect, William McLees of William McLees Architecture in Somers Point. McLees said the construction cost is estimated at $720,000, but noted the final price tag could change depending on any last-minute revisions.
“I think it will help bring the library into the future,” McLees said while describing the project during the public presentation.
Construction is expected to begin in the winter and take between four and six months to complete, McLees said.
The project has been in the planning stage for two years. It is still pending final approval by the city and the library’s board of trustees.
Referring to the support for the library by city officials, Mahar said, “They believe in the importance of a public library in the community.”
Funding for the renovation project will come from the city’s library tax. Mahar said the library tax will not increase to finance construction.
Shirk said the renovation project underscores the goals of a strategic plan, developed in 2015, to make the library a centerpiece of the community. She stressed that the strategic planning committee was determined not to let the library become “an empty warehouse.”
Although some public libraries are struggling, Ocean City’s library membership remains stable, Mahar pointed out.
“We are a very literate community,” she said.
Ocean City resident and retired librarian Judy Perkins, one of the members of the public who attended the presentation on the renovation plan, predicted that the local community will embrace what she believes are some “excellent” improvements.
“I think they’ll think it is wonderful,” said Perkins, who goes to the library almost every week now that she is retired.