New Lewes library plans open many possibilities

Juxtaposition of the Lewes to Georgetown rail with trail project and the Lewes Public Library complex offers exciting possibilities for the region. BY DENNIS FORNEY
March 16, 2012

Lewes Public Library’s Board of Commissioners issued a statement recently making it clear they have chosen a site in Lewes for construction of a new library. The site, six acres of land owned by the Blake Thompson family at the corner of Freeman Highway and Monroe Avenue, is within a few steps of and just across the railroad tracks from the library’s current site.

The Thompson site offers the farsighted commissioners the opportunity to build a new facility incorporating the technological realities facing libraries of the 21st century – a library that can meet the needs of the rapidly growing greater Lewes area for the next 30 to 50 years.

The offer of a free two-acre site at the Villages of Five Points was a generous and attractive offer by the Hudson family and would have been a good location if there weren’t already a library in Lewes. But the Lewes Public Library is in Lewes and has been in one shape or form for more than a century.  The people of the community have dug deeply into their pockets – both through private donations and through their Board of Public Works dollars and city taxes that for decades have paid for the library’s utilities and maintenance.  In addition, the city has invested hundreds of thousands of capital dollars through the years to ensure that the library could adequately serve the growing service area.

Those financial considerations now and in the future are no small factor for any decision.

Settling on the Thompson property option means the library’s commissioners and the community can focus without distraction on raising money to acquire the Thompson property and build a new library. The state has funds for roughly half of the cost of land acquisition and construction.  The remainder of the money will have to be raised through individual, municipal and foundation resources.

Using the Thompson site for a new library, rather than going with a renovation and expansion option on the current site, also means sustaining the integrity of Stango Park, which has become such an important summertime concert venue.  A renovation and expansion plan would have required taking up probably another third of the Stango open space for parking. Last but not least, the renovation and expansion option would have required closing the library for at least a year during construction.

Future use of existing building
The City of Lewes, which owns the present library building, will have to decide what the long-term purpose for that building will be. There have been casual suggestions that Lewes Historical Society might have an interest in the building for exhibit space, and officials at the state level have also eyed the building as a location for displaying the extensive and world-class collection of artifacts from the HMS DeBraak.  Most of those artifacts are currently stored in a warehouse in Dover and deserve greater exposure for the public.

With the contiguous Thompson property and a new library facility, the combined acreage of eight to 10 acres offers the opportunity for a campus-like setting with great cultural, educational, historical and recreational potential. That campus sits at the center of another exciting initiative involving walking and bicycle trails for Delaware’s Cape Region.

The state is already working on designing and implementing an extension of the Junction and Breakwater Trail, connecting Lewes and Rehoboth, which would bring the trail into Lewes near the library.  That extension is designed to move bicyclists off Gills Neck Road, which many see as the most dangerous section of the trail.  At the same time, plans are in the works for connecting the Gordons Pond area of Cape Henlopen State Park with the trail system at the northern end of the park, resulting in a 15.5-mile loop on both sides of the canal and with Lewes and Rehoboth Beach at either end. That will further add to the allure of the already popular trail.

On top of all that, the state is moving ahead with its study and design for a rail with trail system between Lewes and Georgetown. The Cape Henlopen loop trail, including the Gordons Pond link and the Junction and Breakwater Trail, will meet up with the Lewes to Georgetown trail in the vicinity of the library campus. That campus can also include kiosks with maps showing the trails and linkages, parking for the trails and restroom and picnic facilities.

Public buses can also make a stop at the campus and just two blocks away will be the water taxi connecting Lewes and Rehoboth via the canal.

Transportation, whether on bicycles, foot, skateboards, paddleboards or in cars, buses or boats, is a vital and exciting part of life. Putting those varied forms of enjoyable transportation together with a campus hub including a 21st-century library and adaptive reuse of the existing library building for cultural and historical activities can result in something truly elevating to the human experience.