Long-Awaited East Arlington Library, Recreation Center Opens Monday

The facility is meant to bring both a library and recreation center under one roof, with more than 47,000 square feet of social distancing space

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A new project is being unveiled in Arlington on Monday, eight years in the making.

The East Library and Recreation Center will officially open to the public, just in time to meet several needs brought on by the pandemic.

This facility is meant to bring both a library and recreation center under one roof, with more than 47,000 square feet of social distancing space.

The city said it’s a much-needed upgrade for a crucial part of the Arlington community on the east side of the city. The new space is replacing two aging buildings, the old East Arlington Library and the Hugh Smith Recreation Center, both built in the 1969.

The new space features a state-of-the-art library with an innovation space, 3D printing capabilities, literacy tools, meeting rooms, free computer lab and Wi-Fi.

“One roof to reach out to the community and bring people together for learning and discovery, where we hope that our youth can flourish and our adults can be active, and the community can enjoy the space,” said Norma Zuniga, library director for the city of Arlington.

Zuniga said tools for job applications and online schooling have been in high demand since the pandemic started.

“We’re trying to be responsive and listening to what other patrons are needing for that area, for their children for their families, for their well-being. For their employment opportunities. We’re looking and we’re listening. And it’s definitely going to be a benefit to the community,” she said.

City of Arlington

The library had to move a collection of over 33,000 items from one space to the other last month before the final preparations were made for the opening.

“That was a significant undertaking to try and do it with social distancing within the staff and wearing masks but where there’s a will there’s a way,” Zuniga said. “So now that we are settling in and opening our doors to the public, we are taking similar precautions to encourage social distancing.”

On the recreation center side, features include a gymnasium, indoor pool with party room, fitness center, locker rooms, group exercise room, community meeting rooms and outdoor amenities. Other planned features like senior programming and child care are temporarily suspended due to the pandemic.

“We’ll have many more amenities in facility and programming options that we’ve never been able to have before,” said Lemuel Randolph, director of Parks and Recreation for the city of Arlington. “It really is going to, I think, cement its presence in the community and it’s really going to serve as a conduit for the community in East Arlington. We’re really overjoyed to be able to deliver that.“

The $26 million project is funded through taxpayer money as part of a $260 million bond that was approved by voters back in 2014. Randolph said the planning really started even two years before that through a series of public input meetings.

He explained why it took several years for the new building to become a reality.

"When they go to the polls and vote for an initiative, there's an anticipation that that initiative will take place in a relatively short order. But there is a methodical process that the city goes through when we sell bonds. A bond measure may be approved by the voters but it's up to the city council and city management to allocate the bond sales overtime so that we don't stress the budget,” he said. “They typically sell between $40 and $50 million of bonds annually. And those bonds cover everything from street and sewer projects to sidewalks and parks and recreation projects.”

Construction on the new library and recreation center started early last year.

The facility opens Monday at 10 a.m. with a small ribbon-cutting ceremony. Masks and social distancing will be enforced throughout the property. There are capacity limits.

A biomedical technology company will be renting out the old East Arlington library building. The old Hugh Smith Recreation Center is planned for demolition this month.

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