The D.C. Public Library’s newest addition officially opened its doors Saturday after five years of construction.
Despite a light snowfall, area residents lined up outside the door to get a glimpse of the newly-renovated West End Library. The 21,000 square-foot, multi-level facility now features a coffee shop, seating for 200 people and more than 40,000 books – including online books and film materials.
At the official ribbon-cutting ceremony, city officials and prominent community members heralded the new library, located at 23rd and L streets, as an important community space for local residents.
Gareth Eckmann, the construction manager at EastBanc Inc., the developer that oversaw the project, said the library aims to provide an inclusive atmosphere for the neighborhood.
“The library satisfies the private development interest while also satisfying the public interest of having a new library,” he said in an interview. “There’s an area for teenagers and adults, and an entire section dedicated to children.”
Eckmann said the children’s area – a large, colorful portion of the library – was of particular importance to him and that the space was designed to create a “positive interaction” between children, reading and learning.
At-Large D.C. Council member Anita Bonds said the new development, which also features retail and residential space, will be a new approach to urban living because it was constructed to attract residents of varying economic backgrounds.
The building includes 52 affordable housing units and three permanent supportive housing units, which combine affordable housing with support services for people experiencing homelessness and people with disabilities.
“Although not everyone will not live in a luxury unit, the luxury units will help pay for our affordable housing units,” she said in a speech.
Colbert King, a columnist for The Washington Post a and former diplomat for the U.S. State Department, said he grew up on the property where the West End Library now stands. King, now 78, said he could not be happier that his former home is now a facility that will educate children and help promote a sense of community in the West End neighborhood.
“I’ve had many diplomatic passports in my life, but my greatest passport is right here,” he said, showcasing his library card.
Gregory McCarthy, the president of the D.C. Public Library Board of Trustees, also spoke at the event, calling the facility a testament to the “power of the public” because despite opposition, the community stood in support of the project.
The D.C. Library Renaissance Project, a consumer activist group, sued the city to block the plan in 2012, claiming the District improperly sold public land to a private company that planned to earn millions of dollars in profit from the development. The suit initially delayed construction until it was struck down in 2014.
McCarthy said he hopes that community groups who resisted the project are among the first to enjoy the library’s resources and facilities.
Ward 2 D.C. Council member Jack Evans said the new library was built from the ground up and will be a bigger and more modern space than the old library.
“Libraries today become places for social gatherings, people use the rooms for community purposes as well as research,” he said in an interview earlier this month. “You’re able to go there and use your internet. We’ve found that new libraries are very beneficial to that community – students, seniors, anybody who needs that kind of access.”