A rendering shows the planned 100,000-square-foot library and affordable housing project in downtown Columbia. Rendering courtesy of Heatherwick Studios.

Columbia’s Kittamaqundi Lakefront could see big changes beginning April 2026.

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball, joined by Gov. Wes Moore, unveiled plans for a reimagined and transformative library in Downtown Columbia. The library project will be combined with expanded affordable housing opportunities for the growing Columbia community.

The structure would be 100,000 square feet, and its creators envision a place that will “foster creativity, learning, and civic cohesion,” according to Howard County officials.

The plans unveiled are the creation of Heatherwick Studio, the firm that created the landmark “Vessel” public art installation in New York City, along with other notable and distinctive buildings around the world.

“In Howard County, we dream big, we seize opportunities, and we join together to deliver an excellent quality of life for every member of our community,” Ball said.

He called the lakefront project “a transformative civic and educational center for all.” It will include 240 affordable housing units, which he notes is more than double the housing units originally planned for the site.

Hailing the visionary library as ushering in a “new renaissance for our county, our state, and our region,” Ball said “it will be a hub where the arts, education, and community converge. It will be a place that evokes creativity, critical thinking, and compassion. The unique location at the Columbia Lakefront will allow us to re-connect with nature, art, and the community around us.”

Moore praised the project, calling the unveiling “a celebration of a lot of hard work.”

“This county moves fast. This county moves bold. This county sees everybody,” Moore said.

“If there’s one thing I know,” he continued, “it’s that progress is not inevitable. Progress doesn’t just happen. Progress doesn’t happen because time goes on. Progress happens because you push for it. Progress happens because you insist upon it.”

Moore also shone a light upon the strength of the partnership between the downtown Columbia library and affordable housing, pledging his state budget will invest directly in both.

“It should be noted that these projects, they do share something in common. They are about community,” he said.

Emphasizing how the lakefront is some of the most desirable real estate in not just Howard County, but the state of Maryland, Moore said, “Everyone wants to be right here. And what did you choose to anchor it with? A library. Think about that. That takes intentionality, and that takes thoughtfulness.”

A rendering shows the planned 100,000-square-foot library and affordable housing project in downtown Columbia. Rendering courtesy of Heatherwick Studios.

Moore added that anchoring the most desirable real estate around “education, community involvement, community upliftment, community space” shows that “nothing will happen unless community is at the center of it.”

He finished his remarks by promising that his budget will include $55 million for the Rental Housing Works Program to help build equitable communities, tackle childhood poverty, and build an equitable state.

“Building a state that’s more competitive and more equitable are not at odds,” he said. “This is what progress looks like.”

Ball will include funding for the Lakefront library in his FY24 budget to be submitted to the Howard County Council by April 1. If approved, design can begin next year, with anticipation of breaking ground in 2026.

The Howard County Library System is nationally recognized, receiving a five-star ranking by the Library Journal in 2022.

“This new lakefront library will uplift and inspire, connect people with nature, and connect people with each other,” said Tonya Aikins, president and CEO of the Howard County Library System, “We look forward to engaging our community in listening sessions to hear their dreams and aspirations for the interior program.”  

The Downtown Columbia Plan had called for replacing the older Central Library. The previous location of the replacement site (Columbia’s Merriweather District) is where the 240 units of affordable housing will now be built, allowing for both the number of units to be more than doubled and for the units to be built sooner, according to county officials.

“The Kittamaqundi Lakefront has long been the heart of Columbia. As the Community Developer, we are committed to collaborative planning to provide the very best spaces to all who live and visit our town,” said Greg Fitchitt, president of Howard Hughes. “We are more than thrilled to partner with Howard County’s Administration, Library System, and Housing Commission to bring this incredible community anchor to the lakefront, in a way that accelerates even more affordable housing sooner in Downtown Columbia.”

Howard County officials are looking to Heatherwick Studios to “significantly elevate” the design standards for Downtown Columbia.

“Columbia has always been driven by a socially radical vision. This legacy inspired us to evolve the traditional library beyond books and into a new type of community center for broader learning and social exchange,” said Stuart Wood, partner and group leader with Heatherwick Studio. “A walkable, planted building that emerges from the lakeside landscape will house an amphitheater for events, play areas and light filled rooms designed for working and learning anything from cooking to IT. This will be the community center everyone in Howard County deserves.”