On a normal day, around 1,500 people would visit the old Wheaton Library on Georgia Avenue. Guests had to hunt for outlets, a short-supplied commodity in a building constructed in 1960. The basement had drainage issues and the HVAC system broke so often that a stream of maintenance workers flowed in and out of the building.
“It was a constant issue,” said David Dise, the director of the Montgomery County Department of General Services. “We routinely had plumbers, electricians and HVAC repairmen going to the site.”
On Sunday, the well-loved library is finally getting an upgrade. Montgomery County officials will officially open the new Wheaton Library and Community Recreation Center at 2 p.m. The facility will stay open until 6 p.m. that day, with demonstrations and tours of the new building and its amenities, said Carmen Berrios, a spokeswoman from the Department of Recreation.
The opening of the roughly $70 million project marks the first combined-use facility in Montgomery County, Dise said. The library had long been slated for an upgrade, but staffers saw the opportunity to revamp another old building when design began in 2013. Dise said there were also issues with the recreation center across the street.The building was aging and small, with a noticeable bulge on the floor of the basketball court. There was no bleacher space and the aluminum casement windows in the basement let in significant moisture.
“It was just a darker and more uncomfortable space,” Dise said. “And we wanted to replace it with something much more airy and light.”
The team accomplished that with a new state-of-the-art facility that combines library and recreation resources in one space. The first floor of the building has a large gymnasium — enough space to hold three basketball games, Dise said — as well as a coffee shop, Friends of the Library used bookstore, and library space with its own children’s section. There’s a fitness center with an elevated indoor walking track — a first for a public recreation center in Montgomery County, Berrios said.
The second floor has a pottery studio and kiln, plus a commercial teaching kitchen and dance studio with a professional springboard floor. The rest of the space holds meeting rooms and a social hall that’s already received a number of booking requests, Berrios said. The Department of Recreation will begin renting the space in November for events in 2020.
As with all new county projects, environmental impact was considered in the design, Dise said. The new facility has a vegetative roof and underground parking deck to minimize surface water loss. The large glass windows are designed to absorb winter heat, and the county will add solar panels once the building is officially opened to the public.