Political News

$30 million library on Delaware 9 to open next week

Posted September 5

— In the decades Vernon Jackson has called Dunleith home, residents of the Delaware 9 corridor south of Wilmington say that government has mostly overlooked their piece of New Castle County.

Now, as the steel and glass shell of the area's new $30 million library has risen above the rest on the avenue, that perception is being cast in a different light.

"I never thought I'd see something like this hit my neighborhood," said Jackson, whose called the corridor home most of his life. "They usually give this stuff to Newark or Hockessin or something."

New Castle County government will open the 40,000-square-foot library at the intersection of Delaware 9 and Lambson Lane on Sept. 12.

It comes after years of promises from government officials that the center can spark the revitalization not only of the corridor but also the lives of the 16,000 living in the 3-mile stretch between Wilmington and New Castle — where property values lag behind other parts of the county.

The Route 9 Library & Innovation Center is unique from other large county centers. It's a building where actual books will take second stage to banks of dozens of computers, a full-service kitchen and cafe, a theater and specialized rooms tailored to the elderly, those on the autism spectrum and children.

Barring large-scale sewer work, the library is also one of the most expensive public projects county government has executed. It was first budgeted as a $21 million facility. Land acquisition, nearby road work and expansions of the plan put the final cost at $31 million. About $10 million of that will be covered by the state.

"It's a lot of money," said Dunleith resident Michael Brown Carty taking a break from mowing his lawn. "It will be good for the community, but how good depends on what they do with it."

County Executive Matt Meyer took office as the library was being built in January. Last week, he was shelving books with volunteers and former County Executive Thomas P. Gordon and congratulated the previous administration's work building the library.

"Our job now is in some ways a more important job: how do we make sure it delivers on the communities' dreams and aspirations," Meyer said.

Government has spent years surveying and studying what services the library can offer to directly impact those living in the corridor.

Jessica Gibson, an advisor to Meyer in charge of coordinating programming for the new library, said county government is working with new nonprofits to expand upon offerings at other libraries.

For example, the county found there is a high rate of single parents in the area and has partnered with a Wilmington firm to offer parenting sessions as well as programs to help with residents' interaction with the court system. Another group is planning to provide assistance with juvenile criminal expungements, Gibson said.

"We believe this can shift this community in a positive way," Gibson said.

Local schools will also have a place to expand upon regular curriculum.

The county has partnered with the nearby Serviam Girls Academy for the school to integrate the library's science, technology, engineering and technology resources into girls' regular curriculum. Upperclassmen from William Penn High School's culinary arts program will use the library's kitchen and cafe as part of their education as well, Gibson said.

Patti Piovoso, who owns Rosehill Plantery down the street from the library, said the new facility needs to help residents find better jobs.

"It's a lot of money," Piovoso said. "But it can help build the community. It needs blue-collar training, things that people can use to find a better job."

Gibson said the library will have programs for building a resume, interview skills and digging into what work is available. The library will also be a testing ground for new programming that can be expanded to some of the county's other facilities, she said.

A more thorough overview of programs at the new library and others across the county can be found on the county's website.

Initially, the library was discussed as the site of a new police substation. That didn't come to fruition, but Gibson said county police will be based out of a community services unit in the library.

Hopes about police presence is part of a larger aspiration that the library can spur new businesses and amenities to the corridor. That sentiment can be seen in residents' recent protest of a Dollar General under construction down the street from the library.

Edward Harrison lives in the area, runs a mentorship nonprofit and owns Pryme Styles N Cuts along the corridor. He took to Facebook last week to call on his neighbors to protest the business he doesn't feel will meaningfully add to residents' lives.

"I look at the library coming and see what potential it has to add and I don't see the same thing as the Dollar General," Harrison said. "In order to uplift this community, things like the library needs to be continued steps because this area is so far behind the eight ball."

The county has focused federal housing grant money on programs to revitalize homes in the area in recent years. It will have a direct hand in picking what is developed on about six acres behind the library.

Later this year, the county will formally ask developers for proposals to build senior housing on the land. Officials have said they are also eyeing the land for a bank branch or credit union as well as a health care provider.

"I think that library can go a long way to having people fix up their homes and just make for a better living here," said area resident Sylvester Taylor as he took a break from running the kitchen at Sunset BBQ across from the library. "It's going to be good for the neighborhood and people who live here can go there to learn."

For three decades, residents of the area have turned to the Rose Hill Community Center on Lambson Lane for that.

The center houses a daycare center, HeadStart program, dance academy and classes, including Zumba and computer use in an aging elementary school near the library.

Executive Director Shelia Berkel said residents need job training and help if they get into legal trouble. Seniors need help with technology and Spanish speakers need help mastering English.

"You want to put people to work where they can be self-sufficient and provide for their families," Berkel said.

She smiled when asked if she was worried whether the library would detract from the use of Rose Hill.

"We feed people six days a week," Berkel said. "There is a lot of opportunities for us to collaborate as well."

As an example, fitness is popular at Rose Hill and she's discussed having a nutrition class at the library's new kitchen and cafe. They also want to host family nights, dinners and other events, she said.

She said it is most important that officials make residents welcome at the library, which stands out from the rest of the area.

"If they build a connection where people feel like it is an extension of the community, they will be fine," Berkel said.

Gibson said they are working to establish that rapport with residents. She said they've hired Spanish-speaking staff to reflect the community. They also have emphasized hiring people who live in the area.

Officials are planning a grand opening celebration for Oct. 14 at 9 a.m. The party will feature a parade from the Bowlerama across the avenue.

Jackson, the Dunleith resident, is bullish. He thinks the library will be a draw for locals as well as others from as far as New Jersey.

"For the price, it should be everything to the surrounding community," Jackson said. "It will make residents feel better about this place. It's better than not having a library."

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