Loudoun Co. use of libraries for county day care prompts closures, anger

The decision by Loudoun County’s Board of Supervisors to utilize two of the Virginia county’s libraries as day care facilities for county employees during the COVID-19 pandemic has drawn the ire of library officials.

Starting Monday, Aug. 31, the Ashburn and Rust branches — two of the county’s 10 branches — will be limited to curbside pickup service.

Denis Cotter, chairman of the county library’s Board of Trustees, told WTOP the Board of Supervisors’ decision to provide seats for child care for 56 children of county employees is depriving approximately 6,000 library customers per week of the services they receive weekly in the two libraries.

Cotter said library officials were advised of the decision after it had already been made.

“The Library Board of Trustees and Library Administration were not informed or consulted during the development of the proposal,” said Cotter.

“If we had been consulted, we would have been able to make sure that the plan’s negative impact to services available to our library users was mitigated to the greatest extent possible.”

Glen Barbour, public affairs and communications officer for the county, said the county has been “working to establish a child care option for county employees and LCPS employees due to the decision to implement 100% distance learning.”

The county attempted to identify approximately 1,000 seats for day care, to supplement the services provided by local private day care providers — many operating at capacity, due to parents having to go back to work, as county schools plan to begin the school year virtually.

The cost of day care for county employees is still to be determined. A staff presentation estimated monthly full-time costs between $382 and $694.

In addition to the two libraries, the county will provide space for childcare in 11 schools and three community centers.

“Rust can accommodate 38 kids and Ashburn can accommodate 18 kids as child care centers,” said Cotter. “About 3,000 patrons per week visit Rust and the same number visit Ashburn since we re-opened the libraries.”

Cotter estimates the two branches represent 37% of all items checked in and checked out of the system.

The Board of Supervisors reached its decision through a straw poll vote on Aug. 21, which supervisors will ratify at a meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 1. As part of the consent agenda, it’s likely there will be no public discussion.

County Attorney Leo Rogers sent an email to library officials, saying the Board of Supervisors owns the library building: “There is no restriction on the Board of Supervisors redeploying its real property for another government purpose.”

“While the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors has the right to close the libraries, they have made a grievous error in closing two community libraries in the county,” said Marc Leepson, a former Board of Trustees member, and member of the Virginia State Library Board. “And, they went about it in a stealthy, wrongheaded way, not notifying — much less asking for input from — the Library Director or the Library Board of Trustees before making their decision.”

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Leepson said the county should have found other county-owned spaces.

“The libraries are definitely not the place for this, especially during a pandemic,” he said. “The libraries have been open and heavily used during the pandemic.”

Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis Randall and her spokeswoman did not immediately respond to requests for comment from WTOP.

County spokesman Barbour said the child care services will be operated by the Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Services.

“This child care program is not intended to be an instructional program, but participants will have an opportunity to take part in any needed distance learning activities,” Barbour said.

Customers at the Ashburn and Rust branches will be able to access curbside services at each location from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Customers can place holds through the online catalog at catalog.library.loudoun.gov. They will be contacted through their choice of email, text or phone call when their items are ready to be picked up.

In a news release, the library system says curbside pickup is contactless, and items can only be returned to the library during open hours. All returned items will be quarantined for at least four days before being removed from customers’ accounts, though late fees and penalties are suspended.

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Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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