Leader Blues

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

TOP STORY>> Jacksonville weighs library choices

IN SHORT: Committee recommendseither making improvements or building a new library, with the second as the stronger possibility.

Leader staff writer

A committee looking into whether to remodel the Jackson-ville library or build a new one has chosen an architectural firm that will consider both options.

The committee has recommended the architectural firm of Witsell, Evans and Rasco to the Central Arkansas Library System to work on designs to add to the Esther Dewitt Nixon Public Library and for designs on a new library building.

The architects have recommended the second option as the more sensible alternative.

Bobby Roberts, director of the Central Arkansas Library System, said building a new library would pose challenges with interesting possibilities.

“This will not only be a new library for us, but this will be the first library we’ve built in the wireless age,” Roberts said. “We don’t have any libraries that have employed enough computers.”

He said CALS would hope to install a totally wireless Internet system, possibly beginning with 10 laptop computers that could be checked out.

The library, however, would have a hub capable of handling at least 50 wireless systems to prepare the library for expansion.
Ten wireless computers at the ready would replace only four computers currently at the Nixon Library with Internet access.
Branch Librarian Kate McKinney said though the library was traditionally thought of as a place for books, some library patrons only visit for computer usage.

A selection committee was formed to decide how to improve the library after problems were brought to the public’s attention last fall, when the library’s drainage system failed.

The library was closed Oct. 18, when the drainage system caused a steady leak inside the library. The drainage system needed several pipes widened, pipes were added for better drainage and roof vents were added to help evaporate any trapped water even quicker. While workers repaired the drainage system, a layer of asbestos was found and was replaced.

The committee chose the WER firm out of four presentations made Monday at First Arkansas Bank and Trust. The committee included Wally Nixon and Sarah Beth Dawson to represent the library system. Ted Beldon, Mark Wilson and John McNee also served on the committee to represent Jacksonville.

David Sargent, representing the firm, said adding onto the existing building will be costly because there is little land around the building in each direction.

“There’s not a lot of room on any one side of it,” he said during the WER presentation. “You can’t add on to any one side because you’ll run out of space real quick.”

To keep the existing building, he said the firm would probably have to build on to the end facing the Methodist church and the opposite side as well. The firm also considered the possibility of building toward the street.

There could be a downside to adding on to the existing building, though, Sargent said.

He said adding to each side would not be cost-effective and further expansions may not be possible.

Though the firm will work on plans to add to the building, he said constructing a new building would probably be the best course of action.

Wilson, who grew up in Jacksonville, said he wants the addition or the new building to give Jacksonville a focus point.
“We’re a city without an identity,” he said. “We want a place where people are comfortable, a place where people can congregate.”

Though he said the city has a nice city hall and community center, he said it needs a more centralized building to attract attention the way that county seats have a county courthouse in the center of town. The WER architecture firm has remodeling experience, including work on the main library at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, the Richard Sheppard Arnold U.S. Courthouse in Little Rock and the Watson Library at University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

Sargent said the firm would consider several key points during the planning phase, including the integrity of the existing building, the quality of existing space, alternatives for expansions, the disruption of renovation and the cost to sustain the additions or new facility. The firm would also present suggestions for quality of finishes to provide a warm environment and quality of light and space for readability and computer use.

Other firms considered for the job were Cromwell Architects Engineers, Inc., Simms, Grisham and Blair Architects, and Wittenberg Delony and Davidson Architects.

The firms were judged on professional qualifications and experience, experience on comparable projects, adequacy and availability of support staff, and on the interview.