One for the books: Delaware libraries thrilled by $40M in ARPA funding

Delaware libraries will receive $40 million in funding from the American Rescue Program Act.

In Harrington, where the public library is based in a former funeral home and serves as a community hub, the news that $40 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding will be distributed to state libraries was met with tears of joy by its director Marleena Scott.

Meanwhile, down in Selbyville, word that its library will receive $7 million accelerated hope that a $13 million state-of-the-art facility might be operational ahead of the previously advertised spring 2025.

“This pretty much greenlights our project. It greenlights it and steps on the gas,” said Selbyville Public Library director Kelly Kline. “So we are hoping that the new library will be completed much sooner.”

Gov. John Carney announced the investment Thursday. ARPA was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 11, 2021.

On Friday, there was celebration, highlighted by a gathering of local, state and federal officials, as well as library supporters, at the Selbyville facility.

“People are going to be really excited about the announcement that we are making today, to use federal monies, courtesy of our president and our congressional delegation, to really supercharge our library capital campaign here in our state,” said Gov. Carney. “The purpose of these ARPA funds is to accelerate the rebound of our economy, our state. It is going to give us an incredible opportunity to fund projects like this in a way that will be able to bring them to fruition way sooner than they otherwise would have been.

“And the first one up, I understand, is Selbyville. And it’s first up … because it’s ready to go,” he said.

Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del., shared her excitement.

“This truly is a celebration. Forty million dollars for new libraries, for existing buildings, to make them more accessible and to make them more environmentally friendly. Because we’re even talking about solar panels on this new library. That’s like saving money and saving the planet.”

ARPA funding will be used for the following projects:

  • $7 million to the Selbyville library for a new building.
  • $5.6 million to the Harrington library for a new building.
  • $7.8 million to the Friends of Duck Creek Regional Library to expand its building in Smyrna.
  • $750,000 to the Lewes library for a new outdoor pavilion.
  • $900,000 to the Milford library for updates to HVAC, filtration and ventilation.
  • $250,000 to the Georgetown library for updates to HVAC, filtration and ventilation.
  • $11 million to the North Wilmington library for a new building.
  • $4 million to the Newark library for a new building.
  • $3 million to the Rehoboth Beach library for upgrades.

Dr. Annie Norman, state librarian and director of the Delaware Division of Libraries, said the Delaware officials conducted a master plan for library services and construction.

“What that identified is we had too many libraries, that they were too small, and they were out of date. It is specific to each facility,” she said. “The investment today will help library facilities leap forward a generation. Gov. Carney’s strategic investment in libraries supports equity throughout the state.

“So we learned earlier, a few years ago, from Selbyville’s neighbor, Frankford Public Library, how difficult it is to raise the match in low-income areas. The federal ARPA funds can be used to match the state fund and that helps with equity in the low-income areas, such as Selbyville, Harrington and the North Wilmington library area.”

Added Dr. Norman, “Delaware libraries are shovel-ready to strengthen the social infrastructure for digital equity, literacy, workforce development and much more.”

Three-quarters of a million dollars for the Lewes Public Library will support an outdoor project.

“Because of COVID, a facilities specialist worked with each library, every library that wanted it, and looked at their outdoor space to help them design that, so that they could do more programs and services outside, realizing that there is going to be a lot more need for social distancing,” Dr. Norman said. “Lewes is one example. Lewes did their due diligence to gather the information, get the plans ready, so when this opportunity came along, they can move ahead. Hopefully, it will be done by the summer.”

In Selbyville, ARPA funding will cover more than half of the new $13 million library, on an empty lot behind the current facility at Main and McCabe streets. Selbyville was also awarded $3.68 million in the fiscal year 2021 bond bill.

“That is something that we must match locally. There are additional funds that we are requesting through the bond bill for FY 2023,” Ms. Kline said.

Of course, there are plans to preserve the original early 20th-century Townsend House, part of the current building that belonged to John G. Townsend Jr., who served as governor, state representative and U.S. senator.

“The library board of commissioners is still working on a purpose and how that is going to look and how it will operate. But the building will be preserved,” said Ms. Kline. “That is really important, to everyone in Selbyville. It means a lot to people who have grown up in Selbyville. It’s an iconic building in town. It’s on the town seal.”

She added that the Asher B. and Pauline Carey Children’s Wing will be removed in plans for the new site, which, at 14,000 square feet, will nearly triple the library’s space. However, the property for the upcoming location is donated Carey land. “They really did give the library an enduring gift for growth,” said Ms. Kline.

Plans in Harrington are for an approximate 15,000-square-foot complex, on Dorman Street next to Lake Forest South Elementary School. The estimated cost is around $10.7 million.

The current base, a former funeral home, “was obviously not built to be a library, so we are a little bit constricted on space and what we can offer. But we try to do the best we can in our space,” said Ms. Scott.

Harrington has received bond bill appropriations of about $2.6 million and could be in line for more if Gov. Carney’s budget proposal is approved this year. The rebuilding effort also has about $250,000 left over from previous construction.

In a perfect world, the new library would open in late 2024, Ms. Scott said.

“It’s definitely a community that needs a new building. We have a pretty high poverty level in the town. The library is a place for people to have computer access, to get job help. We will be able to expand those programs. It would be a really big game changer for this town. The people of Harrington definitely deserve this new opportunity,” she added.

The Duck Creek Regional Library in Smyrna, which serves both New Castle and Kent counties, is a 2,500-square-foot facility.

“That’s where the library (was) when I was growing up here in the ’50s and ’60s,” said Joanne Masten, president of the Friends of Duck Creek Regional Library board. “The library we have today is excellent for what it can do. But Smyrna is growing. We have to do something.”

The $7.8 million in ARPA funding, coupled with bond bill monies, puts the tally at about $17 million for Duck Creek.

“Here is the problem: What we estimated (for construction) pre-COVID versus post-COVID could be a world of difference,” said Ms. Masten. “We’ve already reached out to Richard Y. Johnson, who is our construction manager. He is reviewing the cost, to determine what kind of escalation there is. We should know within the next couple weeks.

“We’re kind of excited. I’ve been working on this since 2011.”

The new Duck Creek facility is projected to be 20,000-25,000 square feet.

“It has been a long time coming,” said Ms. Masten. “But none of us were willing to throw in the towel. We want to see the library built for this particular region.”

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