Leader Blues

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

TOP STORY>> Voters will decide on Jacksonville's library

IN SHORT: Voters will decide July 5 whether or not Jacksonville is to have a new multipurpose building to replace the 36-year-old library, which is the oldest in the Central Arkansas Library System.

By Brian Rodriguez
Leader staff writer

A Little Rock architectural firm on Monday unveiled designs for a new Jacksonville library that would cost about $2.5 million. Voters will decide whether to fund the library during a special millage election on Tuesday, July 5.

The architectural firm of Witsell, Evans and Rasco showed their plans during a meeting in the Esther Dewitt Nixon Library in Jacksonville, featuring a multi-purpose section for use after library hours, a larger workspace for library employees, study rooms and reading alcoves.

"We’ve got some really, really exciting things going on here in Jacksonville," said Mark Wilson, the Jacksonville representative on the Central Arkansas Library System board. "I think the architects have a lot of passion for their project."

The architects said it would cost about the same to build a new library than to renovate the existing building.

The most discussed part of the presentation was the proposed roof shown in the color renderings — an architectural rarity with the roof sloping from the front and back toward the center of the building.

Charles Witsell, a partner in the WER firm, said the design was used for the triple purpose of imposing monumental size to the side facing Main Street, giving the reading room and the library shelves a high roof, and allowing more window space for reading light.

“When you look outside of the building, it may look a little odd, but when you go inside of the building and there’s light, it’s great,” Wilson said. “With a library, I feel like that’s the bigger issue, how you feel inside the library.”

The pitch would drain the water to the center, said Witsell, and downspouts would then move the water out toward a sewer or drainage ditch to carry the water away from the building.

Most of the argument against the roof came because the center of the proposed roof seemed to have a flat section that reminded the crowd of flooding problems last fall, when the drainage system in the current flat roof leaked and closed the library for about 40 days.

Witsell said Tuesday afternoon that the firm was still in the design stages and other roof designs would be considered to ensure the city is happy with the plans for a new building.

"We certainly saw that it had a negative response so we are indeed going to be looking at different designs," he said. "We listened to the community last night and we certainly will do that."

"Keep in mind I asked the architects to do something very difficult," said CALS director Bobby Roberts, "to draw up a plan with no lot."

An earlier report by the architects showed that not counting land purchase, it would cost more to completely renovate the current building than to build a new one.

The report showed, including the cost to move and rent a temporary location while work was done, expanding and renovating the current building would cost just under $2.5 million.

The cost comparison was broken down to $185 per square foot to expand and renovate the current building, or $170 per square foot to build a new one. Witsell said land purchase was not added to the building cost because a site has not been chosen to get a cost estimate, and if the city is lucky, a site could be donated.

The current library was built in 1969 with 9,265 square feet and was renamed the Esther D. Nixon Library in 1992.

"This is a building that I think has served the community well, but it has worn out," Roberts said. "It’s just simply outlived its usefulness."

The average CALS library building, excluding the Nixon Library, is five years old and has about 14,000 square feet.

"This is like a baseball game – you get a win or you don’t," Roberts said, referring to the millage election. "There’s not going to be a second chance on that."

A positive vote in the election would fund a one-mill tax increase that would generate about $165,000 per year to fund up to a $2.5 million bond for a new library building.
The bond would include paying for a land purchase, equipping the land, and constructing a new library building.

Under the one-mill increase, a home appraised at $100,000 is assessed at 20 percent, or $20,000.

Millage increases are 1/1,000th of the assessed value, so a one-mil increase on that home would cost 1/1,000th of $20,000.

Millage increases are collected once a year, so a $100,000 homeowner would pay $20 per year until a bond was paid.

"I think all you can do is tell people it’s a value to the community," Roberts said.