By Maria Asimopoulos
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
They counted down in unison from 10, holding cameras and children. When they got to zero, people filed slowly into the main lobby of the Enoch Pratt Central Library. Their mouths stretched into smiles or drifted absentmindedly open as they looked around in wonder at the high ceilings and decorative art that greeted them when they got through the doors.
The Central Library Grand Reopening Block Party took place Saturday, Sept. 14, ushering in residents to view the updated look and layout for the very first time.
“Beautiful. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful,” said Raya Barksdale, 56. “It’s just breathtaking, the entire building.”
The goal of the renovation was to restore the historic building to what it looked like when it was first built in 1933. Construction involved adding new lighting fixtures, putting new glass in the skylight, and restoring the decorative ceiling.
“Somebody must have gotten on their back like Michelangelo or something and painted all of these things,” said Stephen Holloway, a 67-year-old Baltimore resident, with a laugh.
While music boomed throughout the halls, people took their time to absorb the restored art that framed the walls and the fresh paint that breathed new life into a building that had never been renovated.
“It really has been freshened up,” said April Smith, a resident who had been coming to the library since she was a child. “I like the fact that they kept all the portraits and didn’t start modernizing and boxing it in and changing it. Just keeping it the way it was in 1933 is what makes it so impressive and wonderful. It’s like a cathedral.”
Enoch Pratt Central Library’s renovation cost $115 million and lasted about three and a half years—but took 20 years to fund and plan.
Meghan McCorkle, the marketing and communications director for the library, said the money was hard to put together.
“We wanted to make sure it was done correctly,” McCorkle said. “That’s what it took to really bring this building back to its historic grandeur, and we’re so proud to be here today.”
The renovation added new or improved spaces, including a brand-new job and career center, an updated central hall, an expanded center for teen learning and leadership, a new creative arts center, a restored children’s library, and more than double the number of computers, President and CEO Heidi Daniel said.
The teen/young adult wing moved from downstairs to the second floor, where it is now more spacious. There are supplies for teens in the newly designed Creation Stations that have audiovisual recording equipment, sewing machines, virtual reality video games, and more.
“We really listened to what our teens wanted, so some of it is the latest, greatest technology,” McCorkle said. “The sky’s the limit. The idea with that space is we’ll continually change out the technology so that we’re offering that access to teens in Baltimore for free for things that you can’t necessarily have in your home.”
The library remained open throughout renovations, and staff operated from a circulation desk in the midst of the scaffolding and construction.
Dejuan Shropshire, a 31-year-old resident who was in and out of the library during renovations, was excited to see the finished building.
“I can’t wait to see the parts that we couldn’t see at the time,” Shropshire said. “It kind of really needed to catch up. It’s strange because I’m so used to the old look, but it looks amazing.”
Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen joined Mayor Jack Young and the chair of the library’s Board of Trustees, Director Ben Rosenburg, in attending the reopening and welcomed residents back to the library with enthusiasm.
“It was always a special moment when our parents said we could come downtown to the central branch,” Cardin said. “We were always so excited—we even got dressed up for it. Because this was truly a special place, and we always would look forward to special occasions that brought us down here. That tradition continues today with these renovations.”
As the afternoon stretched on, people wandered from section to section with maps in their hands, sometimes peeking through the windows on the second floor to take a closer look at the refurbished art in the lobby.
“The architecture, the books, the setup, the location, it’s always been a nice library,” Barksdale said. “It’s just breathtaking.”