Howard County reveals plan for lakefront Columbia library

Published 3/30/2023 11:45 a.m. EDT, Updated 3/31/2023 11:07 a.m. EDT

The Governor, County Executive, and others take a photo after announcing a new Library will be built on the Columbia Waterfront, in Columbia, MD., on March 30, 2023.

Howard County officials revealed plans Thursday for a new lakefront library in Columbia that they expect to become the planned city’s crown jewel and a model for other communities.

The new library — at 100,000 square feet — will be at least twice the size of any other facility in the county library system and will include an auditorium, a literacy classroom, flexible community space and a digital lab. It will host speakers, author talks and other public events.

The building was designed by English architect Thomas Heatherwick and construction is expected to begin as soon as 2026 and will cost $144 million.

Funding for the library will be included in the proposed county budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, which County Executive Calvin Ball said he will present to County Council tomorrow. The library has long been included in Downtown Columbia’s 30-year master plan, he said, but this new location for the facility will enable county officials to add mixed-income housing at a dedicated location in the Merriweather District, doubling the amount of affordable housing planned for the site.

“Investing in this plan is a giant leap for our future,” Ball said, adding that the “iconic” library space recommitted Howard County to being “a place of empowerment for all.”

A rendering of the new library.

Renderings of the site show splash pads and tall water fountains outside the glassy building, as well as courtyard space, patios and benches. Inside, the digital renderings include floor-to-ceiling windows, wooden floors and a large chandelier.

Gov. Wes Moore joined Howard County officials for the announcement and called the project “a shining jewel for this country and this world.”

“Everyone wants to be right here,” Moore said, calling the library site overlooking Lake Kittamaqundi some of the most desirable real estate in the state. “And what did you choose to anchor it with? A library.”

Moore said the state budget will also include money for the Downtown Columbia library and affordable housing. “Building a state that is more competitive and more equitable is not at odds,” he told a cheering crowd.

Ultimately, the new lakefront library will replace the Central Branch of the Howard County Library System, president and CEO Tonya Aikens said. An investment of this scale will be a gift to the county’s children, she added, many of whom begin learning in public libraries before they even start school.

The 30-year master plan, approved by the Howard County Council in 2010 and amended in 2016, provides guidance and recommendations for how to approach the redevelopment of Downtown Columbia with respect to the environment, housing, land use, transportation and design. It stemmed from a realization that Columbia’s downtown never achieved the hustle and bustle to which it aspired, with planning documents describing it as “sparsely populated, automobile-dependent ... with isolated amenities separated from one another by what has become a vehicular thoroughfare.”

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The planning documents make a case for building a new central library downtown that functions as an “experience library,” which combines learning with interesting architecture, creative programming and interactive experiences. “It has the exciting opportunity, given the right tools, to grow further into a leader of library innovation,” the planning documents say of a new or overhauled library complex. It includes photos of Cerritos Library in Cerritos, California, as a potential model.