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LOUDOUN COUNTY, VA — Loudoun County library officials and county residents are expressing disbelief with the county's decision to close two county libraries and use them as child care centers, especially with the large amount of school space available due to the county school system starting the year with 100-percent remote learning.
The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors' handling of the decision to use the Rust and Ashburn branches of the county's library system as child care centers also is drawing intense criticism. The county board did not include library officials in the process of assessing where the children of Loudoun County Public School staff and county government employees would receive child care when the school year starts on Sept. 8.
"If you join a library board of trustees and your libraries are suddenly getting closed and you had no involvement in it, you're not exactly happy, to put it mildly," Denis Cotter, chairman of the Loudoun Board of Library Trustees, told Patch.
What frustrates Cotter the most is that nobody in county government contacted Chang Liu, director of the Loudoun County Public Library, or other top administrators in the library system to seek their input or to let them know that libraries were being considered as child care centers.
Cotter learned about the plan to use the two library branches as child care centers on Aug. 22, one day after the board had already made its decision and only a week before the two branches would be shut down, except for curbside service. The library board of trustees met Friday evening to discuss the county's decision to close the two libraries. Cotter said his colleagues on the board also were surprised by the lack of communication with the library system.
In late June, the Loudoun County Public Library system became one of the first jurisdictions in the region to reopen its libraries beyond providing only curbside services.
In a straw poll on Aug. 21, the Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed to use the Rust and Ashburn library branches for the child care program. The Board of Supervisors is expected to ratify their vote Tuesday at a board meeting.
Loudoun County Supervisor Tony Buffington (Blue Ridge), who appointed Cotter to the library board, contacted him by telephone on Saturday, Aug. 22 to let him know that the county had decided to use the Rust and Ashburn libraries as child care centers during the upcoming school year. Cotter then received a phone call from Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis Randall (at-large) who explained what the board had decided.
Cotter immediately phoned Liu to let her know what happened. When he called, it was the first time Liu or any of her staff had heard about the county considering using any of the libraries as daycare facilities. "It was a complete surprise," he said.
Loudoun County plans to use schools, community centers and libraries to house the more than 1,000 children who will be receiving child care. The Rust library will have the capacity for almost 40 children, while the Ashburn library will have room for almost 20 children.
If demand is high, the two libraries could house as many as 100 children, Cotter said.
The child care program at the two libraries and other county facilities will be operated by the Loudoun County Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Services, with some contracted support at certain locations.
Starting Monday, the Ashburn and Rust libraries were limited to curbside pickup service. Cotter expressed relief when he learned that the collection of books and other materials at the two libraries will continue to be shared among the other libraries in the system.
The Loudoun library system operates nine branches, plus a law library in Leesburg. The Rust and Ashburn branches house about 40 percent of the materials in the Loudoun library system, Cotter said. They are also two of the busiest branches in the county's library system, with about 37 percent of the system's materials getting circulated through them.
The two libraries have a total of about 52 staff members, most of whom are expected to continue working at their respective branches, according to Cotter.
Loudoun County chose to seek non-school facilities for child care because the school system wants to be prepared to move quickly if it decides to switch to a hybrid system away from 100-percent distance learning sometime during the 2020-21 school year.
Residents expressed shock with the county's decision to close down libraries and how the board of supervisors and county staff kept the Loudoun library system out of the loop.
A Leesburg resident suggested in a comment to Patch that the county use elementary schools across the county as child care centers because they are better equipped than the public libraries for this purpose. "Shutting public libraries for childcare takes away from other citizens a most fruitful, fulfilling and much-needed resource during this COVID period," the resident said.
Another Leesburg resident complained about the "sneaky way" the Board of Supervisors "went behind the backs of the public, as well as the Library Board."
"They close the libraries for this, while so many school buildings that could have been used for the same purpose sit empty," the resident said.
An Ashburn resident said residents who use the Rust and Ashburn libraries should not lose access to the library branches, especially when there are "practically empty schools" all across the county.
Another Ashburn wrote sarcastically: "Sure ... makes perfect sense to close two heavily used libraries for child care when schools are largely empty."