Leader Blues

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

TOP STORY > >Library ready to move

By JONATHAN FELDMAN
Leader staff writer

After nearly 40 years, the Esther D. Nixon Library on Main Street in Jacksonville will permanently close its doors today. The library will reopen at its new eco-friendly and high-tech, 13,500-square-foot building at 703 W. Main St. on Saturday, Feb. 14.

Linda Bly, deputy director of Central Arkansas Library System and special projects coordinator, was busy Monday afternoon ensuring that the new building will be ready for opening day. Shelves were being labeled with various category titles, while construction workers tended to a few loose ends.

“It will certainly be one of the finest libraries you’ll find anywhere,” Bly said.

She describes its architec tural style as being modern-classical. The building’s façade is adorned with eight stainless-steel columns that suggest a Greek or Roman influence.

The library’s construction was funded with a 1-mill property tax, private donations, $300,000 from the Central Arkansas Library System and $400,000 of city sales tax revenue.

The funds also helped pay for Splash Zone, the joint-education center and a training facility for the police and firefighters.
The old Nixon Library could not be more different from the new one. The old one has not been remodeled since 1991 and its collection capacity was maxed out decades ago. The new one is spacious, technologically advanced and-architecturally impressive.

A geothermal heating and cooling system, cork flooring, carpeting made of recycled material and ample natural light help make this a state-of-the-art “green” building with a $4 million price tag. It was designed by W.E.R. Architects of Little Rock.

The geothermal system is one of the most impressive aspects of the library. It is comprised of dozens of holes drilled hundreds of feet underneath the building’s foundation. These holes help regulate heating and cooling efficiently, which reduces the library’s need for fossil fuels.

Nixon staff members and library members are excited about the big move, which means transplanting its collection in perfect order into the new building.

The old building is likely to be purchased by its neighbor, First Methodist Church, according to library staff members.

The new library will likely become Main Street’s finest building and the city’s pinnacle achievement, and perhaps even lead to a hoped-for, widespread revitalization of downtown.

The old library opened March 17, 1969. It will close just a week before its 40th anniversary, ex-plained Jacksonville head librarian Kathy Seymour.

Seymour has been with the branch since June 2007. She says the new library will be “one of the most beautiful buildings in Jacksonville.”

A New Orleans native, Sey-mour’s enthusiasm and optimism about the move is clear. In her Cajun accent, she described invaluable funds provided by generous civic organizations like the Ladies Auxiliary Club of Jacksonville, which purchased the lighting for the flagpole.

She also was proud of a lifelong patron who before passing away last year requested that donations in her memory be made to the library to provide children’s art programs. So much money was received from the bequest that the children’s art programs are likely to flourish at the new branch.

The library is planning events for its grand opening. On Friday, Feb. 13, the library will host an open house. Books will not be available for checkout, but it will provide the public with an opportunity to tour the facility and meet the staff members and city officials who helped make it possible.

For Jamie Melson, the closing is bittersweet. She began working at Nixon Library in the summer of 1979 after graduating from Jacksonville High School. She was hired by Esther Nixon personally.

Melson became emotional when she recalled Nixon, who was a mentor and friend to her. Melson no longer works at the Nixon Library, but she catalogs new fiction books at CALS’ main branch in downtown Little Rock.

The old library has a lot of history for her and the city.

She credits Nixon as being the city’s pioneering librarian. Nixon founded the first city library at the old city hall in the 1950s.

She worked for the library until her health forced her to retire in the 1980s.

Despite her sentimental attachment to the old library building, she is thrilled about the new building. “I can’t wait for the new branch to open. I’ve been an advocate for a new library for years,” Melson said.

That is a common sentiment in Jacksonville now. They say Feb. 14 can’t come soon enough.