The Rehoboth Beach Public Library trustees are developing plans for major improvements to the current 20-year-old library facility.
In 2019, the trustees examined how well the current building meets the existing and future needs of the community, including its need for significant repairs and upgrades. The trustees unanimously expressed their desire to remain at the current location rather than looking for land elsewhere in the city or Sussex County for an expanded building with additional parking.
Board President Tucker Kokjohn said, “The City of Rehoboth Beach and its residents have been supportive of the library as an essential contributor to the social, educational and cultural fabric of the community, and we will continue to be a part of the Rehoboth Beach community.”
Constructed in 2000, the current building has a number of problems that need to be addressed. These include sealing exterior masonry, removing corrosion and rust from window lintels and propane pipes, and replacing the water heater and rooftop HVAC equipment. Access to the mechanical and electrical areas is restricted due to lack of storage space. There is only one public restroom on the main floor which does not meet the national plumbing code, and the flat portion of the roof is nearing the end of its useful life.
Energy-saving options being considered include replacing fluorescent lighting fixtures with energy-efficient LED lights, and installing solar panels and a building automation system. Changes to the interior design and layout of the building will help accommodate advances in the nature of library services and materials. The focus is less on fixed-location computers and desks, and more on flexible furniture, room dividers and space for laptops and portable devices. Additional conference and study room spaces are needed.
After a needs assessment was completed in September 2019, the board contacted the Delaware Division of Libraries, which has an existing program to support construction and major renovation. The identified needs include up to 3,100 square feet of additional space and renovating 8,000 square feet of space in the existing 11,429-square-foot building. The assessment also established a process by which state bond funds may be used to pay 50 percent of the expenses for the eligible construction improvements.
The community also expressed concern about limited parking, which makes it difficult to access the library during the busy summer season. The library has 10 free parking spaces in its small back lot, but those are in high demand, and at least 10 additional spaces would be required to meet standards. The board contacted the City of Rehoboth Beach and worked out an agreement to provide extra parking spaces for use by library patrons.
The additional space could in part be addressed by repurposing the covered walkway on the ground floor as part of the building interior, and possibly enclosing the second-floor balcony facing Rehoboth Avenue. If the walkway is remodeled, a new public access to the building from the rear parking lot will be needed.
The challenge is to meet the need for additional space at the current site while maintaining library services to patrons. Since new construction may take 18 to 24 months to complete, the board is considering various options to maintain operations during that time. COVID-19 pandemic restrictions in recent months have allowed library staff to explore ways to provide services on a reduced basis.
Some of the service options the board is considering include trying to operate within the current building while exterior construction is underway; closing the library for six to nine months while interior renovations and construction are completed; or closing the entire library for 18 to 24 months during construction and leasing temporary space to relocate modified operations, either within the city or to nearby property on Coastal Highway.
If a temporary relocation of the library during construction is needed, the state program could provide 50 percent funding. The Rehoboth Beach Public Library will need to raise funds to match the state funds and cover any ineligible costs.
The library has received $650,000 from the Delaware bond bill as recommended by the Delaware Division of Libraries to complete the needs assessment and begin to develop design concepts. The board is working with Becker Morgan Group to develop concept designs and plans over the next few months. Once the board endorses one or more concept designs, it will present them to the community for comments.
Trustees expect to initiate a capital campaign in 2021 to seek local funds.