Anticipation abounds for Wheaton Library reopening

Exterior shot of the new Wheaton Regional Library and Community Recreation Center, scheduled to open to the public Sept. 8. Photo courtesy of Councilmember Nancy Navarro/Facebook

The long-awaited reopening of the Wheaton Regional Library has been shifted a day, from Saturday, Sept. 7 to Sunday the 8th, a change that pleases some of the library’s Sabbath-observant neighbors, and others as well.

The $70.9 million project is the first combined complex of its kind in Montgomery County. Immediately following the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Sept. 8, people will be able to explore the 92,000-square foot building, which includes a library and Friends of the Library used bookstore; a community recreation center complete with indoor basketball court and track; a playground, an underground parking garage, and even a coffee shop.

Local resident Aliza Chodoff said her two sons would watch the ongoing construction on the facility from the windows of the interim library across the street, which they visited two to four times a month until its closure June 22. The kids would constantly ask when the new building will open.

“They’ve been so excited since they found out it was opening soon that the prospect of not getting to go to the opening was a huge let-down,” said Chodoff, who is Orthodox. “We a small but vital aspect of the community and deserve to be taken into consideration when it comes to events that involve our community. We participate in MoCo’s events and utilize its public facilities, so we should be a part of the discussion.”

The original recommendation from the Wheaton Library Action Committee was to hold the opening ceremony “any day but a Saturday,” said Interim Library Director Diane Whittaker. Half of the committee members belong to Jewish congregations in the area, she said.

Ultimately the power to move the date from a Saturday was in the hands of County Executive Marc Elrich, according to Montgomery County spokesperson Judy Stiles. “It was very important to him that everybody in the community be able to attend the event,” she said.

Stiles was not able to confirm by press time how many people, Jewish or otherwise, reached out to request a date change. She did not have information on why the event was originally scheduled for a Saturday.

“We can’t make exceptions for every member of the community, but if it is a large group it is important” to make adjustments when possible, she said.

It was significant that the requests for a date change were a matter of “faith, not a preference,” she added. “A library and recreation center is a community facility and it’s really important to be inclusive.”

David F. Choy commented July 31 on a Facebook post on the opening by Montgomery County Councilmember Nancy Navarro: “I love Saturday events, but many of my neighbors in Kemp Mill will appreciate the update to Sunday.”

“Thank you for your consideration for our observant neighbors in Kemp Mill!” Brigid Nuta Howe chimed in after Choy.

Yaffa Koff, one of the Jewish community members who expressed disappointment at the original choice of date on the event’s official Facebook page, returned to share her gratitude after the date change was announced.

“Thank you for changing the ceremony to Sunday! Looking forward to joining,” she posted Aug. 1. Koff is a local business owner and member of the Orthodox community in Kemp Mill.

“Thank you for changing to Sunday! It makes the most sense for this neighborhood and I’m excited to attend!” posted Brenda Footer on Aug. 2. Footer lives in the Silver Spring neighborhood of Forest Glen and is the director of PJ Library at the Center for Jewish Education in Baltimore.

“I felt very happy when they announced the date change,” said Chodoff. “It showed to me that a community can effect change when they rally together. It also showed me that I have a little bit of civic power to effect change in my community. I am happy that we’ll all be able to join the rest of the community in celebrating the opening.”

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