Related story: Plans for new libraries in Frederick County could be stalled
The debate over building a new library in Walkersville took a new turn this week when the president of the county commissioners accused the library director of political posturing.
“It sounds like Darrell Batson is becoming very political,” Frederick County Commissioners’ President Blaine R. Young (R) said of the county’s public library director, Darrell Batson.
At issue is Batson’s criticism of proposed cuts to funding for new libraries and his assessment that the current Board of County Commissioners dismissed a $450,000-grant from the state to help construct a new Walkersville branch.
Batson, who was hired by the county in 1998, also said that the commissioners effectively “stopped libraries dead” by halting the construction of all new libraries in 2010.
It was that decision that forced the county to return the state grant that would have paid for a portion of a new $6-million building in Walkersville.
Young and Commissioner Billy Shreve (R) said they were unaware of the grant.
However, Bill Reinhard, a spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education, confirmed Tuesday that the county received a grant for the Walkersville library. Reinhard said the grant was intended for fiscal 2011. When it was turned down by the county in 2010, the money was reallocated to other construction projects in the state, he said.
“We were ready to proceed with the Walkersville library,” Batson said, in an interview this week. “We had the land, permits, architectural design and we had the [$450,000]. But it was stopped dead and we had to give the money back to the state. We had a window to spend it, and we were ready to go. But it was stopped.”
Batson said if commissioners had decided to proceed with the new library, construction on South Glade Road in Walkersville would now be under way.
The library was slated for construction in fiscal 2015. But in fiscal 2012, commissioners pushed it back to fiscal 2017.
Young, who said he was not aware of the grant, was not pleased with Batson’s comments.
Batson said his “only concern is that people have access to libraries.”
Young, however, said the county has limited resources and that funding for new libraries is less important than building new schools and fire stations.
“There’s only so much money to go around,” he said.
Shreve said it is not unusual for the county to miss out on state grants, especially if the county is unable to match it with its share of the money.
“It happens all the time,” he said. “The state has the money, but only if [the county matches it]. It’s a game to try and force people into spending that money. You can’t depend on the state.”
Shreve recently proposed eliminating plans for a new Walkersville library, closing the current Walkersville library building and merging it with the library at Walkersville Middle.
Shreve’s suggestion has sparked criticism.
The seven-member board of trustees for Frederick County Public Libraries voted unanimously April 4 to dismiss the idea. The trustees based the decision on concerns about management of the library and safety.
Shreve also presented his idea to the Frederick County School Board on March 20. The school board took no formal vote, but said it does not support opening a school library to the public.
Shreve is now suggesting that the county look into putting the library into empty commercial space in Walkersville.
“We can look at other empty buildings in Walkersville,” he said. “We can look at remodeling them. We have two shopping centers with a lot of empty space.”
Shreve was referring to the Walkers Village Center and the Discovery Shopping Center, both on Md. Route 194 in Walkersville, which have had tenants vacate recently.